Activator Story: Planting Seeds

Having lived all his life in Bonteheuwel, 31-year old Dean Jates says his activism not only seeks to transform the area, but also the residents.

But for now he’s planting small seeds, hoping that soon they will blossom into tall trees, which will eventually bear fruit.

On one of the hottest mornings in April, Dean gathered some of his neighbours who also brought along some gardening implements.

Their task: To transform a small patch of land next to the road into a garden and thus create a beautiful space in an otherwise dreary urban setting.

“The proposal that I put forward to my neighbours was basically three options: That each home contributes 10 litres of water per month for the garden, or four hours of their labour each month, or R5 per week to maintain the garden.

Dean is using his training from ACTIVATE! to organise his community, and change perceptions about volunteerism.

While the project was being driven by married couple Dawood and Rabia Salie, both unemployed who’ve taken on the task of caring for the garden through the support of the community.

Around 10 residents of the street picked up their shovels, spading the ground and removing weeds, while other neighbours provided refreshments free of charge to those who had braved the hot sun.

His initiative was a way of kickstarting volunteerism in Bonteheuwel, a typical township on the Cape Flats where unemployed, drug abuse and gang violence is rife.

“I was disappointed in the youth not being involved. Also very few men participated, insisting they would only do if they were paid,” said Jates.

He’s not given up yet, and says next month he wants to go all out to get more people involved in the project to transform their neighbourhood.

While we’re seated on a tree log for this interview, one of Dean’s neighbours points to a corner where a young man was shot, eventually dying 15 metres further up the road.

“When I finished high school in 2001, I wanted to study sound [engineering], I wanted to study film, and computer [science] but there was no-one who could guide me in terms of where I could go,” said Jates.

He eventually got a job where he worked for four and a half years after which he quit after receiving a bursary to study film.

“I studied, finished the course in 2008, and the next year I got a job at the District Six Museum,” says Jates.

His time at the museum, he says, opened his eyes to the history of Cape Town’s coloured people.

“But not just coloured people, but black people, South Africans as a whole,” says Jates.

He would eventually be retrenched from the museum, and last year he took up a short course in theatre, which eventually saw him applying to do the Activate course.

Jates says during his time at school he was inspired by rap music, particularly Afrikaans rap.

“If we as coloured people start speaking AfriKaaps, we feel ashamed, which we shouldn’t because suiwer (pure) Afrikaans actually comes from AfriKaaps but our people, because of the apartheid system, are ashamed of their language,” says Jates.

While the particular AfriKaaps hiphop blares from a set of speakers, some of Jates’ neighbours are hard at work transforming the piece of land.

“You don’t just have to be active in your community, good deeds always go unnoticed, and some people are embarrassed. Its not something for which you can be reimbursed,” says Jates.

Since 2008 he’s been involved in independent film, hosting screenings as part of the Encounters Film Festival.

He started his own audio visual business, hiring out sound equipment, doing video editing and CD copying.

Related Articles

Photo exhibition: Protest against the self

An open air, free for all exhibition by Dean Jates at the Bonteheuwel Train Station garden on 01 June 2014. Dean Jates: The Active Citizenship Photography Exhibition provides the opportunity to reflect on the self in a society were negative imagery controlled by mass media TV news, newspaper has become a norm in communities.