Covid-19

VISUAL ESSAY

Clinging to hope that ‘The Battlefield’ becomes a ‘Field of Dreams’ in Lavender Hill

Weather-dependent, as many as 300 children at a time converge on "The Battlefield", which has become the turf of humanitarians Mark and Shireen Nicholson and their dedicated helpers, who feed the children twice daily, Monday to Saturday. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Almost everything has been on hold during the coronavirus lockdown, including plans for a multi-purpose centre on a crime-ridden field in Lavender Hill on the Cape Flats. For a while, even gang violence subsided — but no longer under lockdown Level 3. Meanwhile, hunger worsens.

Lavender Hill is an old apartheid dumping ground, notorious for gang wars and strife. Local community members have been pinning their hopes for a better future on a tract of vacant land they hope to transform from “The Battlefield” — across which gangsters regularly fire gunshots at one another — into a “Field of Dreams”, in the shape of a multi-purpose sports, arts and culture centre.

This field brought together Ralph Bouwers and Mark Nicholson in a partnership. Bouwers was a successful UK businessman, born and raised in Lavender Hill, who returned home after being sickened by the suffering in his former community. He met Nicholson, who ran the local football club that played on “The Battlefield” adjacent to his home.

Turner Adams’s vision was to see positive change in Lavender Hill, but having spent more than half of his 54 years in and out of prison, where he was a member of the 28s, he had no idea how to achieve it.  Now without any income, he lives with his sickly mother in the apartheid-era complex to which his family was removed from District Six in the 1960s. Even though he isn’t directly involved, his vision and his role in connecting the right people look set to finally bring his dream to life (image taken in 2007). (Archive Photo: Brenton Geach)

Enter Turner Adams. I was introduced to Adams, who when in prison had been a member of the 28s, more than 17 years ago. I had begun to document the tik drug scourge that was ripping apart poor communities.

Years later, in 2017, Adams was looking for a positive way to uplift his community. He said he had never been a gang member outside of prison. He got involved with a production company doing a documentary about tattoos and he shared his thoughts with producer Janette de Villiers.

The idea for a field of dreams began to take shape. De Villiers got in touch with Ruth Daniel from In Place of War, a global, UK-based organisation that uses creativity in places of conflict as a tool for positive change. The organisation will provide seed funding for the new complex.

Daniel connected with Bouwers, who in turn brought Nicholson on board.

On this “Field of Dreams”, Lavender Hill activists Mark Nicholson and Ralph Bouwers have joined forces with global organisation In Place of War, which uses creativity as a tool for positive change in places of conflict. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

It was a long journey, through years of red tape with local government, but in January this year the development of the field finally got the go-ahead.

Then Covid-19 put everything on hold.

With school feeding schemes having shut down, Nicholson and Bouwers turned their attention to feeding hundreds of local children on the field every day.

As soon as Mark Nicholson lines up the bright red cones on the field, it signals the children that it’s noon and time for lunch. Rain or shine, they race across the field eager to take their place in the queue where children are fed first. The adults watch in the hope that there’ll be some left over for them. (Photo: Brenton Geach)
This 100-litre pot of curry is a lifeline for adults and children who gather daily on The Battlefield to collect bakkies of food that are often the only nutrition they will get as the lockdown hunger crisis deepens. (Photo: Brenton Geach)
Children like Emily Beukes, 3, walk. more than a kilometre from Military Heights to Lavender Hill to collect food from Mark Nicholson’s feeding scheme. But if it’s their only hope of a daily meal, the walk is more than worth it. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

In the first weeks of hard lockdown, there were no incidents of gang violence. Then the government released several thousand prisoners on parole and the lockdown eased to Level 3. Gang wars sprang back to life all over Western Cape. Lavender Hill and its surrounds was among the hardest-hit, with multiple killings being recorded. One person was shot six times just across the field from Nicholson’s home.

One can only pray that Adams’s vision to transform his neighbourhood, with the help of Bouwers, Nicolson and others, will be realised. DM

Brenton Geach is a veteran photographer based in Cape Town. All the photos above and below were taken during the lockdown, except the portrait of Adams.

Anti-gang unit and the army pass by. Since the government eased the lockdown and introduced new Level 3 regulations, Lavender Hill has seen a sharp spike in gang activity and killings. (Photo: Brenton Geach)
The anti-gang unit and the army pass the Lavender Hill “courts”, where a man was shot dead at 8am early in June, 2020, just metres from where porridge is prepared for a feeding scheme.. (Photo: Brenton Geach)
Children brave the wet, freezing cold winter weather that has struck Cape Town to collect their bakkies of hot food. When there’s a break in the rain, they charge across the field to take their place in the queue. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

 

 

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