Hope not lost in ‘lost city’ Atlantis
MARTINUS Fredericks, an academic in agriculture and environment, says there is no substance to the myth that Atlantis is the “lost city”.
Atlantis is a small town 40km north of Cape Town, on the province’s West Coast, where unemployment, drugs and crime are rife.
“The Atlantis economy sustained several surrounding communities. Atlantis is a nett exporter capital, meaning that money generated in the area flows to neighbouring suburbs. Our town’s gross GDP in 2010 was R24bn. The white-collar workers, who are the highest earners in the economy, don’t reside in Atlantis,” Fredericks said.
Fredericks, along with Atlantis Radio manager Rachel Watson and community development facilitator Allen Beukes, experienced the economic boom in the area during the apartheid regime and all are in agreement that the closure of companies resulted in huge unemployment coupled with a sudden hike in gangsterism and drugs.
“It’s not that Atlantis was lost but rather there was a reconfiguring of the town’s environment, which is its greatest attribute. Our sand dunes are a huge attraction and foreigners descend upon them in great numbers. And the films shot at the dunes generate billions of rands be the bulk of the money generated go to those outside Atlantis,” Fredericks said.
He singled out the political will to meaningfully change Atlantis as one of the biggest obstacles in the way of prosperity for the area.
Fredericks said much research had been conducted in the area and 150 documents were written on how to revive the economy of the area.
“In 2010 we established the Atlantis Working Group task team who drafted a turnaround strategy. We came up with the Atlantis Prioritisation document that contained certain aspects on the economy, a programme to be implemented but all that was needed was the political will to implement it. The city of Cape Town implemented parts of the document.”
One of the major initiatives to put the Atlantis back on the map was the recommendation from the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) advisory board to designate the area as an SEZ so it can offer incentives to attract foreign and local investment.
Western Cape economic opportunities MEC Alan Winde said investments worth R1.8bn were in the pipeline once the SEZ was approved.
Watson said: “From the age of 14, I worked in a factory. The struggles and hardship I endured in Atlantis made me a stronger person.
“After 1994 people stood together. Cosatu and other political parties at that time, as well as the ANC, formed the committee Atlantis Reconstructive and Development Forum that fought for better facilities in the area.
“There is one campaign I still find ironic today. In the early ’90s we fought for traffic lights. At that time, there was no robot in the Lost City. When the MyCity was introduced, I came home from work one night and asked myself if what I saw was a robot. But when I saw that, I said to myself that in the early ’90s I was one of the people who had fought for a robot and now finally there was one. For me, it was hope that maybe there was a new wave of change coming.”
Watson said although the challenges at times seem insurmountable, its residents have never given up and remain hopeful that Atlantis will once again become a thriving town.
Watson also runs the United Sanctuary Against Abuse, which is a safe house for 20 women and children.
“We have a massive drug problem. In the past, I would say unemployment is the biggest problem but today I think drugs is the biggest problem. Kids are introduced to drugs at a young age and the biggest negative thing is that we are going backwards in terms of crime these days,” Watson said.
Beukes, who grew up in Atlantis, said that business development initiatives were not positively supported and everything gets politicised.
“There are so many fights at the cost of the people and many business opportunities are given to outside contractors, with the result there is no economic injection into the pockets of the people,” Beukes said.
“To date, politicians have sold out our people and let opportunities pass us by. We get the crumbs while outsiders get the biggest slice of the cake.
“The Atlantis Revitalisation Framework was drafted to revive the area, but those plans were grabbed out of our hands. We are taken out of the equation and a year later, the plan pops up as a new initiative and is handed to outside contractors.”
The trio said Atlantis was blessed with immense talent in all fields and with academics capable of reviving the area, all they want is an equal opportunity to silence the critics.
DESPERATE FOR CHANGE: Atlantis residents at a meeting to discuss the challenges the town is facing.