Crossing borders by bridging divides

Ocean View writer Chase Rhys is one of Borderlands NPO's collaborative team members.

Imagine finding a way to turn tracts of land between suburbs into communal learning spaces. Leila Anderson is doing just that with an initiative called Borderlands.

She describes Borderlands as an arts initiative that creates unifying experiences for people from different communities to meet in nature and make art together.

“We work in the ‘borderlands’ between neighbourhoods in the far south, using the public spaces that belong to all of us, to bring residents of Fish Hoek, Red Hill, Masiphumelele, Ocean View and Noordhoek and the surrounds, together.”

The group holds “Border Walks” with guests from diverse fields leading walks either on the mountain, or through land between suburbs.

The walks are free – transport is provided – with pick-up points in Masiphumelele, Red Hill and Ocean View.

“We have support from the City of Cape Town’s arts and culture department, and we have received past support from AfrikaBurn Outreach and the Institute for Creative Arts at UCT,” says Leila, a Noordhoek resident.

The first Border Walk of 2019 took a group over the dunes of Sunnydale and up to Peers Cave.

Walking up to the cave scared a number of the people in this group, Leila says.

Along the way, however, they struck up conversations with people who lived in adjacent areas and shared their concerns.

Once in the caves they listened to guests Elton Matangira and Judith Westerveld.

Elton, of Masiphumelele, spoke on behalf of his church members about their use of the mountain as a place for spirit and prayer.

Then visual artist Judith, shared her performance, Mukalap – A conversation with a !ora speaker, recorded 80 years ago.

The performance included a dialogue across time and space, between multiple languages and is part of her project, The Dream of a Common Language.

Noordhoek potter Hazel Anderson says the walk shifted their perceptions of each other.

“We were walking on the beach, and I was talking to another woman while picking up some seaweed. She pointed out that in her culture, nothing is taken away from natural areas, and it gave me real pause. I hadn’t known that.

”In a previous walk to Kleinplaas ruins and dam, Jess Tyrrell, environmental psychologist and wilderness guide, also shared her knowledge and stories.

She was joined then by Chase Rhys, a writer and performance artist from Ocean View. He won the inaugural Adam and Rosalie Small Award for Debutant/Debutante Writers for his play Kinnes.

It was written in honour of all the children lost to violence of the Cape Flats. However, at this walk he presented a live installation, Going Home a Paradise NOW, which told the story of displaced generations after forced removals in Cape Town.

Some of the walks also open the door to respectfully observing wildlife in the area – from a distance.

“As we left Red Hill dam that day, a troop of 30 totally chilled baboons arrived.They munched on pincushion proteas, nursed their babies and watched us walk away,” Leila says.

Chase is one of the collaborative team members of Borderlands with Leila, Kati Francis, who is a theatre maker and arts activist, and Sibabale Silo, a youth leader and arts activist.

The team members live in the areas they are bringing together: Noordhoek, Ocean View, Muizenberg and Masiphumelele.

Meanwhile the group’s Border Youth programmes help to bring youth from different communities together through workshops, eco-arts camps and outings.

Leila laughs as she tells of a group of Simon’s Town students who were initially very anxious to meet students from Ocean View. When they arrived, however, they discovered, with great glee, that they actually already knew one another, and all laughed about their apprehension.

“There are very real borders between our understanding of what happens in the lives of people just a few roads down or across from us. The youth, in particular, are facing threats and challenges, and creating platforms for them to meet and find safe spaces, and then giving them access to arts to express themselves is a real salve… and a possible solution,” Leila says.

“These interactions are part of co-creating a sustainable common future,” she says. “Art can help us process our pasts and re-imagine our futures, listen to one another and make space to dream. This project in all its forms is an act of solidarity and connection.”

Contact Leila at borderlands.deepsouth@gmail.com or call 079 365 3967 or visit: www.borderlands.co.za