The Cape Town plot of land known as ERF81 is an anomaly: an inner city settlement and farm on an abandoned military base, situated on prime real estate nestled between the tourist icon of Table Mountain and gentrified Signal Hill. In this interstitial space an eccentric family of sorts has put down roots and defends it’s space against gentrification's advance.
The residents are currently under the threat of eviction and this is a story that is universal; urban spaces unique in their character and endeavours are being sought out by individuals or companies who do not see past a monetary value. If ERF81 is lost we will lose much more than just an inner city settlement with a few families being removed. The wider community will also lose a valuable space where people from all backgrounds are welcomed, a place where individuals are able to reconnect with nature and to heal themselves, offering both the advantaged and disadvantaged the chance be a part of something unique. The intrinsic value of this parcel of land should not be measured in economic terms that will ultimately only benefit the few, but rather it should be valued for the benefits and opportunities the space and its residents provide to the greater community and to the city of Cape Town itself.
“I came to the farm with 2 pygmy goats on the 15th January 1995 and offered to be the unpaid caretaker of ERF81. I am overwhelmed by a surprising conviction that I’ve been forced/beguiled/led here for a reason. I imagine choruses cascading over me, from somewhere behind the stars. When Marko – still an utter stranger then – walked up the road that Sunday morning and offered me an 11-month baby fresh off the sidewalk I accepted his offer not because I had had any epiphanies, but because I can never say ‘no’. I’ll draw the moral of the story: I found my raison d’etre here on this farm. The personal and the spiritual aspects of my life on this Farm are intertwined. I breathe deeply the tipi ticking night of frogs. All the earthworms and mites, spiders and fireflies, frogs and dragonflies living here are threatened by bulldozers. I want them to live longer, so I’m the dog in the manger. While I keep development at bay I may as well keep some animals and raise some children. To be father and grandpa to the children of un-’known’ mothers is supreme irony. I exist here to protect and sustain other creatures, the vote-less and the fragile. I rise early, to feed and water, to guide and appreciate. To rearrange and to clear. To be severely pissed off by 9 am because all the other humans are either still abed and/or hung-over or off to day-jobs. I live within ecstasy and despair most of the time. I enjoy being alive while I suffer the bitter waste of life. My failures loom ad infinitum. (I don’t know if you ever had a toothache, but I assume that you’ve harbored a lover.) Therefore, you’ll know that one night of pain is endless, but a night of bliss flickers past in a wink or two.
If I had to leave here, I would feel nothing, I’ll be dead.”
Lumko “Living on the farm is a blessing as it is mostly surrounded by nature and the interaction between people is beyond race, class & politics. It has provided me with a far greater understanding of our eco-system and this learning has contributed so much to my personal growth. The positive aspect about being on the farm is the social integration -racially, economically and there is a sharing of knowledge amongst people who have a common goal for the improvement of the food system and environmental conservation which encourages sustainability. This place is bio diverse & serves as an outside classroom for students and children from different levels of education and gives a meaning to a real-life learning.
The farm is not without its challenges as we stay here without any form of recognition from the authorities, and our initiative is not supported by any government funding departments because of the lease. I have been the chairman of Tyisa Nabanye Food security organization that has practiced perma-culture at the site. I also contributed in organizing the food markets that were hosted by this organization where entrepreneurs from diverse communities across Cape Town take part. Being removed from the farm would have a negative impact on not only my kids but the other kids that have grown up on the farm. I personally believe that the conditions on the farm are much better than living in a township because they get to attend schools that are within walking distance and provide a better education. There are also more opportunities here than you would find in a township and the exposure to animals and the interaction with the wider community is invaluable. In terms of education this farm has contributed so much to these kids and teachers always complement us that the kids at the farm are caring & sensitive toward others and are knowledgeable about subjects that haven’t even been taught. I believe it is all due to their interaction with animals & their understanding of nature which directly impacts them here on the farm.”
The first time I came to the farm I was about 3 or 4 years old. I couldn’t speak a word of English and I was afraid to speak to anyone. As the years went by I learnt to speak English and Afrikaans and then I began to communicate a lot! I learnt many lessons and followed many wise words, but the most important words of wisdom I was ever told was by Andre. They were “never lie and never steal.” Over the years the farm became my everything, because it provided me with a family that I love and friends that I am grateful for. If it wasn’t for the farm I would not be the same person I am today or have the family and friends I do now.
I have lived on the farm for 5 years. It means everything to me, there is nothing quite like it. For me it’s all that is good about the new South Africa. In microcosm, some of the more negative stuff is also here but that is to be expected and I totally accept it.
We get the opportunity to interact or to get to know each other and in my case its very plain that I am an old white man and I am coming into contact with young black people. It’s been an amazing and a major experience in my total lifetime.
The whole history of this country has been one of dividing people into stereotypes, mainly racial but also in other ways and what I found here is that it is just an exercise in illusion and unfortunately, I would say the majority of the world’s population is suffering from it. What I learnt here is to see first of all an individual and at best I can detach that from differences between myself and the other person in terms of race, sex, generation and rather look at the similarity of another individual with a unique nature.
The one thing I have tried consistently to do in the 5 years that I have been here is to treat everybody here with respect as far as possible. Love is a much-abused word but for me to put love into practice means things like respect for other people consideration for them, consideration for their boundaries and for their problems. The wider community would be deprived of a huge opportunity for social development in this country not just social but I would say spiritually. The government and civil society at this point in time cannot really be convinced that there is something dynamic going on here, but for us who are involved in this, we can see it. If I were to be evicted it would be absolutely devastating, this place has become so intertwined with my feel for a personal destiny that it is just one thing- I am this place and this place is me. If I lose it, it is going to be very hard.
I have been on the farm for five years now and I am very grateful for the time I have spent here. I pray that we will continue. This little place with its disparate, damaged, scared inhabitants appears to be a microcosmic mirror of the greater society around us. People at the bottom end of the food chain are continually bludgeoned economically and abused by the corruption of the officialdom which, in ignorance of Truth, seeks only short-term solutions to perpetual crisis. Gucci shoes and Fancy Land Rover SUVs, just like the example they see in the TV shows designed to destroy any bit of leftover morality.
Apartheid may have created infrastructure and an amount of prosperity for some,
but it was built on a fundamental untruth and the outcome of that political system is the unfolding tragedy which surrounds us.
As Andre noted earlier, "Never mind diagnosing the malady, people can't even see that there's a problem".
The threats are perpetual, but they vary in shape and intensity. Over the last 5 years I have done hundreds of repairs and maintenance jobs on the farm, the list is endless. In an ideal world, a space like this would be an eco-village. The residents would be employed on the land and involved in all the activities which would make it a functioning farm/eco village. Unfortunately, the residents are not always available for harmonious interaction with one another and I feel the lack of basic education prevalent in the wider South African society means that common decency has no basis in reality. If forced to leave I would be sorry and also possibly relieved even though I will have nowhere to go.