With the opening of a new skate park in Gardens, Cape Town, and the rise in skate competitions, what lies ahead for this increasingly diverse sport?
Judas Priest’s lyrics, “Breaking the law, breaking the law!” bursts out of the speakers, entertaining the packed venue known as The Pit.
The Pit, a skating bar in Cape Town’s city “bowl”, is hosting the Vans invitational skateboarding competition on a cloudy Saturday evening. Skaters speed from one end of the fluorescent lit bowl to the other, performing grinds and wall rides on each end.
The association attached to skaters is normally that of reckless trouble-makers and vandals but watching the skaters and crowd, I don’t see the connection.
There are no fights breaking out; even when a board accidentally goes flying into someones face or a beer is spilled onto a spectator’s camera. There are no vandals destroying pot plants or mail boxes. If anything, there is a general camaraderie and respect between everyone present.
Quinton Robertson, one of the skaters taking part in the competition at The Pit, spoke about what he thought a skate park brings to the community.
“Kids will have a facility where they can hang out after school and when they are finished their homework. It doesn’t matter if they are bored, they can just watch and this helps to keep them off the streets.”
The skate park hosted hundreds of young kids, some as young as 8, and people from all backgrounds.
Marco Morgan, a founding member of the National Skate Collective, an organisation hoping to advance the culture of skateboarding in Cape Town, believes however that this diversity has not always been present in the sport.
“Skateboarding has always had stigma of rebellion or dare-devils attached to it, and for that reason it has been attractive to some and less attractive to others.
“In South Africa, these stigmas ran a bit deeper and skateboarding was seen to be exclusively “white” with the type of slang, fashion and music associated.
“…looking at the skateboarding community today, these walls of exclusion have been broken down, and the South African skateboarding community shows diversity in its sport and culture.”
There has also been an increase in gender diversity. The Pit’s competition includes a female, Melissa Williams.
Williams is the only female competing against 35 male competitors.
“Gender has always been an issue in skateboarding, as it has always been seen as a masculine activity; however with the increase of females participating in the sport, we are seeing a much more diverse community, illustrating a real sense of accessibility,” says Morgan.
“At a competition level, we have seen organisation such as SAGRA [South African Gravity Racing Association] and KDC [Kimberely Diamond Cup] cater to the demand for female competitors.”
Unfortunately Williams couldn’t comment on gender in skating as she had to be taken to hospital after severely breaking her finger in one of the heats of the competition.
Injuries are synonymous with skating.
A search for “skateboarding fails” in YouTube, offers days of footage that will make your eyes water and steer most people away from the sport.
So I asked Leigh Soulink, a young man with dreadlocks and a massive red rose tattoo covering his neck, what he thought drew people to skating, even with such high risk of injuries.
“It makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something and you’re doing it solely because you want to have fun.
“I just like hanging out with my friends and being happy for the guy when they land a trick. That’s what skating is all about, just having a good time with friends.”
Sheldon Klopper, a spectator and skater himself says,
“It starts off with the people. They are very accommodating and it doesn’t matter if you’re starting out [with skating] or been doing it for 20 years.
“Skateboarding takes away that team sport vibe of being shut out if you’re not good enough.”
It seems this accepting environment is one that sets skating apart from most other sports.
Today’s park opening and the regular competitions are a sign of the sport’s increasing popularity. More importantly, skating has an opportunity now by using the parks to shrug off the stigma associated with skaters.
By setting up the Gardens Skate Park , skating is granted more awareness and with this, acceptance.
Although a positive step forward, Morgan believes that throwing more skate parks at the issue of bad reputation, is not always a good thing.
“Skate parks are often the easy answer to dealing with the spatial antagonism between skaters and other users of public space.
“Although skate parks are awesome spaces for skaters to connect and congregate, it is seen as a way for authorities to control skaters spatial mobility and fence an activity, which most likely will result in facility-based mentality that supports the sport without supporting skateboarders’ needs.
“Most times we are not consulted about skate facilities and in these cases; these spaces do not fit our real needs.”
Morgan and the National Skate Collective are attempting to introduce a by-law that will allow skateboarders to skate on the roads legally.
“We have set up a task team with the City of Cape Town, to work together on developing future skate parks/skate facilities and integrating skateboarding into the urban fabric of the city,” states Morgan.
There have also been talks about a new skate park being constructed in Woodstock using these task team approaches.
This accepting community of skateboarders seems to be making progress in communities around the world. In South Africa, the diversity is striking and promises positive change.
But will this diversification and exposure lead to more facilities and support for the sport? Or will it serve to isolate the skateboarder even more by confining them and “fencing the activity” to spaces catered for them.
A greater question is raised: Will skating only be practiced in cordoned off, ‘legal’ areas in the future or will it be accepted for its freedom of expression and allowed to be practiced wherever the skater chooses?
As for now, the growth of this niche sport is on the up and skaters around Cape Town all seem to be winning.
Jacobus Van Breda du Toit grew up in an small, God-fearing, Afrikaans town called Vereeniging in South Africa. He is now “Kavi Karnapura Dasa”, a practicing Krishna monk and the senior monk of his ashram in Stellenbosch. Du Toit and 6 other Afrikaans Krishna devotees live in the ashram. They maintain a vegetable garden and live according to the Krishna principles.
This radio feature called “AfriKrishna” follows what these monks find rewarding and unique about this eastern religion. A lecturer on world religions also gives an interesting insight into why this movement is occurring in South Africa.
Eight thousand out of the estimated 60 000 Delhi homeless, received their election identity cards on the 10th of April, 2014. For the first time in India’s history, the homeless can vote. Eight hundred and fourteen million people are eligible to vote, making it the world’s largest election to date, according to the BBC.
The election identity cards can open a bank account, allow free train services and cooking gas connections. Do the homeless in South Africa have the same benefits? Will the South African homeless vote in the upcoming elections on the 7th of May, 2014? Anthony Molyneaux heads out to the streets of Cape Town to figure out how the homeless feel about voting 20 years after democracy.
“The homeless are very eager to go and vote because they feel it is their democratic right. Particularly our black and coloured residents, they feel a little more encouraged to vote as it’s a practice they weren’t allowed before,” states Jerry Louw, manager at The Haven Night Shelter in Greenpoint in Cape Town.
The Haven’s vision, “No one should have to live on our streets,” lines their business card and Jerry has been involved in homeless shelters since 2003. “You do pick up that some people feel they aren’t accounted for and some feel, look what’s the point, I’m homeless, what’s the point of voting? But it’s misguided and we try and help them with information.”
The large cool cemented floors lead the way through the shelter. AB, a 30-something-year-old man with dark circles around his eyes and a slow drawl guides me through the bare halls of the residence where 100 otherwise-homeless people sleep. A large open plan eating area leads to the outdoor courtyard where a dozen of the residents are scattered in various reclined positions, one of the residents shifts his mangled mattress out of the sun.
AB is the field worker for Haven Night Shelter. His job is to hit the streets, locate homeless people and inform them about the options the city makes available to them.
The Haven has rehabilitative programmes in place to assist the residents. They’re assisted in gaining their Identity Documents [ID] in order to vote, a prerequisite to take part in the upcoming elections. They are also helped by social workers like Lucia Peterson in overcoming their troubles which include domestic violence and drug abuse.
“Yes, of course I’m voting,” Denise Nel, a 40-something-year-old lady, still in her narrow bed, states happily. She has been working in an initiative setup by Patricia de Lille for homeless people. “We’re being paid to clean the streets at night and I’ve been staying here [the Haven] for 6 months but I feel great because I’ve got a job. A lot of people here at Haven will go vote and I’m grateful for the government and the shelter for getting me a job and helping me.”
Haven gains its funding from the city of Cape Town and the National Lottery. Donations by large shopping chains allows the residents to eat fresh produce from nearby grocery stores. This is appreciated by most residents I speak with at the shelter and is one of the common reasons that lead to the general enthusiasm for voting.
But what about those even less fortunate? Those on the streets that cannot get a bed in a shelter as there are no vacancies (these shelters have a slow turnover and can only accommodate 95 people per night), no money (a bed costs R10 a night) or no assistance? Are they also excited about voting?
The 5 cent meal service offered in Cape Town’s city bowl is visited by predominantly homeless people; the people who don’t have the benefits of the shelters. The grassy patch opposite the brick-faced building is spotted with countless groups of ragged looking individuals waiting for their lunch.
Alwyn Pieterson, clad in a reflector vest and tattered brown jeans sits in the shade of a grocery store sign waiting for his first, and probably last, meal of the day. “A guy was stabbed here last year while in line. He tried to push in and was stabbed to death. But don’t worry you can still go, there’s a security guard here now,” he states with a mischievous grin.
“I’m not voting because I don’t have an ID.” Upon asking why he doesn’t try to get one he sneers, “I lost it when I first came to Cape Town. Now it costs me R270 to get my ID, I don’t have money for that.” Checking on the Department of Home Affairs website, a re-issuing of an ID actually costs R140 ($14) but this is still a lot of money for a man literally on the street.
A group of three sitting on the sun-laden grass embankment are not voting either. “We don’t have ID’s and don’t have money to get one.” When questioned what they think about the elections, the young lady named Lesley, lying against her boyfriend’s chest, barks “They’re corrupt. They promise things and don’t deliver. They’re racist and don’t care about us.” The group all nods in agreement.
A hard looking man with jail tattoos along his right arm sits in the shade of a small palm tree. His eyes stare toward the distant mountain. He too is not voting as he has no ID and has no motivation to get one.
Except for a few vague comments of racism and corruption, there seems to be a general knowledge of the importance of their vote. It seems the problem for the homeless, in terms of voting, isn’t apathy or indifference as much it is a lack of money and/or services. The homeless outside of the shelters require IDs, IDs require money and they have neither.
The issue is not so much in whether the South African homeless vote or not, it’s whether they have the facilities and funds to vote. For a lucky few in shelters like the Haven, assistance with funding for IDs and eliminating technicalities motivates the homeless to vote.
The majority on the street however, have no assistance. They can survive by the generosity of 5c meals yet when R140 is needed to attain an ID, this proves to be too much. Why would they save the R10 they’ve scrounged for the whole day to pay for an ID? The thought of voting gets lost in their survival from day to day.
Many homeless living on the streets will miss out on the opportunity to lay down their mark but not due to their perception of being let down by government. It is because they don’t have the resources to get what they need to vote. A larger social issue is raised. The shelters are progressing and rehabilitating the homeless but do we have enough shelters for our ever growing homeless, ‘voteless’ people?
India has introduced the free of charge election identity document for their less fortunate. Perhaps this idea, implemented in South Africa in election years, might assist in the voting of the large number of homeless people who go otherwise unnoticed and unaccounted for.