Hope not lost in ‘lost city’ At­lantis

The New Age (Free State) - - WESTERN CAPE NEWS - VIN­CENT CRUYWAGEN vin­centc@the­newage.co.za

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.

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