It’s all Greek to this Plato

Far too often we let politicians get away with spouting the type of waste product that emerges from a bull’s bum. But the residents of Beacon Valley in Mitchells Plain are a welcome exception….

They deserve a ‘hip’ and a ‘hooray’ for letting Dan Plato, the MEC for Community Safety in the Western Cape know, in easy-to-understand language that: ‘If you can’t do your job … get out so that someone else can do it.’

And that is putting it politely.

At a symposium on drugs and crime last week, concerned citizens of Beacon Valley accused the police of having made little or no attempt to shut down 28 drug houses in their suburb.

The community made it clear that they wanted action – and they wanted it quickly

Plato, of course, is no slouch.

A few weeks ago, he showed a sharp turn of finger speed, in using his telephone to inform a Cape Town radio station (the same station that organized the symposium) about a four-year-old toddler from the Southern Cape who was addicted to tik.

But it proved to be a case of five minutes of fame for the MEC. The story turned out to be the figment of someone’s fertile imagination.

And Plato paid the price for wanting to be a radio journalist rather than the Minister for Community Safety.

His presentations skills appear to be another failing.

Even over radio, he came across at the symposium as, well, ‘squirmy’. While acknowledging that drugs were a big problem in many communities in the Western Cape, he warned the audience not to get ‘emotional’ about the issue.

Oops. Wrong thing to say. One resident described his response as ‘disgraceful’.

As a storm began to brew around him, Plato quickly opted for the ‘Politician’s Defensive Position, Part 3 (a), Clause (iv): he claimed he had been ‘misunderstood’.

The angry reaction to his performance was understandable.

As a province, we haven’t even started the fight against the scourge of drugs. A government-sponsored rehab centre here and there serves no purpose other than to give politicians the opportunity to say: ‘This is an indication of our determination….’

And to this, we can reply: ‘Well, yes … some indication … some determination.’

Piecemeal little sops are not going to help communities under siege. We are paying the price today for things that happened more than a generation ago, which have never been properly resolved.

I was nine years old when members of my neighbourhood in the little southern suburbs community of Diep River were uprooted in terms of Group Areas legislation. Fortunately for my family, my father was able to build a house, ‘on the other side of the railway line’ in nearby Heathfield because, as a postman, he qualified for a government housing subsidy (a tiny one).

Most of our neighbours had no such opportunity. They had to move to the council housing estate of Manenberg on the Cape Flats.

As the years passed, we heard gut-wrenching stories of how the lives of our former neighbours had changed. There was the story about our next door neighbour’s one son being sent to prison, followed by a second … about the hopeless addiction to drugs of another neighbour’s son … about the story of ‘the twins’, two doors away, who died in a prison fight.

These were my playmates. They were, like me, the sons of working-class parents. Why them and not me? I used to wonder as I grew older. Of course, it was a stupid question: the answer was already obvious then, as it remains obvious today: environment has everything to do with the way our lives turn out.

My father’s decision to build a house, at great financial sacrifice, gave me and my siblings a fighting chance to make something of our lives. But the lives of our neighbours and far too many others who were dumped on the Cape Flats were spent – and will continue to be spent – peeing into the wind.

Rectifying the situation (if, indeed, the situation can be rectified) will be a painfully slow process. For a start, the least the three arms of government – local, provincial and national – could do is listen to the appeals of mothers (for those who weep most for their children are mothers) and strike a series of decisive blows against those who peddle death and destruction in our communities.