Drug-infested, crawling with crime, drowning in violence and grossly overpopulated…. just some of the labels that the community of Phoenix, north of Durban, gets plastered with. Sadly, the crime figures are pages of startling statistics that echo this disturbing trend.
As I pen this, the crime statistics for the past year have been released. The detailed analysis for Phoenix is likely to follow soon, and the numbers will scare many. But what the numbers won’t tell you is the love, warmth and strong community spirit that exists in Phoenix. That is rarely acknowledged. That is where Phoenix has captured my heart.
It’s almost a decade now that this is my home, but I can still recall the words of the naysayers. How will you manage in such a dangerous area? Don’t drive around alone! It’s not safe!
I brushed them off, and rightly so! I had lived in Newlands West all my life and didn’t see Phoenix as being a vastly different community. Let’s add Chatsworth, Wentworth, Merebank, Umlazi, Isipingo, KwaMashu and Inanda, among others, to that list. These areas were created by the architects of apartheid to block non-White South Africans from the city centre. They wanted to isolate us. And as we were poignantly reminded in the blockbuster movie Keeping up with the Kandasamys, “they….put us in one place”.
Allow me enlighten you about my place, Phoenix.
I am blessed to live metres away from a temple, mosque and church. I love hearing the azaan every morning. It means I start my day off with prayer and if my alarm fails, I know the azaan never will. I love hearing the vibrations of devotional songs from the temple and the melodious voice of the church band’s lead singer that reverberates on a Sunday. It reminds me that we all can live together harmoniously.
But life is not idyllic, right? Yes, I too have stared crime, actually a criminal, in the face. I caught him red-handed stealing items from my house. I yelled at him, demanding to know what he was doing. I was brazen. But then I realised he could be armed and ran to hit the panic button. Within seconds of hearing me scream, my neighbour had climbed her wall to quickly get to me. She thought my son was in danger. Fortunately, he was not at home at the time. Unfortunately, I was alone. Having my neighour there at that time meant everything. It touched my heart to know that neighbours are not an extinct phenomenon.
My husband’s friends have become my family, and my safety net. When I met with an accident and was left without a vehicle, I borrowed our friend’s car for a month. There were no questions asked. Nowadays, if we are away on holiday, this friend plays with our dog and feeds her daily. When we bought our house in Phoenix, there was no need to hire trucks or trailers to move our furniture and clothing. Another friend pitched up at night with his van and sorted it out. Again, no questions asked.
At Christmas, they keep gifts for my son under their trees. During Diwali, they celebrate with vegetarian food, sweetmeats and fireworks at our home. And, they stay afterwards to help me wash the dishes. I can call on these friends and my neighbours at any time. I never have to put on a face for them, figuratively and literally. They’ve seen me in my pyjamas, sans make-up. They haven’t been scared or scarred yet!
You’d be forgiven if you think all this is mundane. The reality is that it’s these simple gestures that make the biggest impact. It creates a sense of identity and belonging.
I am not oblivious to the wave of crime in Phoenix. I was there when police retrieved the body of 9 year old Shahiel Sewpujun from a manhole in Clayfield. I saw how angry residents were, but I also saw them standing firmly together. Are they still doing the same today? Are enough residents doing their bit to fight crime? Or are we willing to be plastered with more labels?
I would be failing if I did not single out just how destructive the drug trade is. It is the devil in disguise. Drug dealers must no longer be sheltered. We need to be brave enough to close their business. Let’s stop making excuses. It’s time to name and shame.
Yes, Phoenix is burning but like the mythological bird it is named after, it can rise again.
A strong community spirit still exists. People have extended or renovated their homes from when they were first placed in Phoenix. Their children have good jobs and yes, in some cases, they drive flashy cars. Surely they can afford to live in a more affluent area! But, why would they want to move? Crime is everywhere; in high rise buildings and gated estates too. But more than that, if I have accumulated so many heart-warming memories in just ten years, how many such memories do people who were born and raised in Phoenix have?
That is worth staying and fighting for.
If you live or have lived in Phoenix, please share your memories and comments.