Dear Mayor Ma’am,
I hope this letter finds you well.
My name is Mpho Matsitle, a resident – tenant – at Antoinette building on Cromwell Street. This letter is co-signed by Morena Moabi, also a tenant at Mimosa Court on Short Street. We – him and I – consider ourselves neighbours, amongst other things. And as neighbours we often share a quiet moment or two drinking coffee and listening to jazz. Being busy people generally; these moments are more often than not shared in the late evenings at either of our abodes, but more frequently at the newly opened Fresh Stop on Zastron Street – they have the most wonderful coffee; we’d be honoured to have an audience with you there one day.
We also share a passion for the arts, Morena and I, and I don’t know if you’re aware but there has been a boom of arts and culture in the Westdene suburb. As such we find ourselves in that area week in week out. Again most of this boom happens up to the wee hours of the morning.
As such, we often find ourselves traversing the streets of Mangaung – the city slickers we are – late at night and sometimes in the early morning. Bloemfontein being the quaint city it is – hence we love it so – we walk everywhere. This walking has been without incidents – save for an irritant or two – so far. But this has changed dramatically over the past few weeks; hence we saw fit to pen this plea to your grace and office.
On our way from Pacofs to Second Avenue some two weeks ago, a man approached us in a threatening manner. We quickly reproached him and he backed off. That was something we could easily scoff at. But it was strange either way, and unbeknownst to us it was a harbinger of the troubles to come.
The other night, not more than a week ago, on our way back from Pitseng on Second Avenue to our respective abodes, we noticed three men following us on Zastron Street. We sensed that they were up to no good. So we crossed to the other side of the road to see if indeed they were trailing us. This was confirmed in the affirmative. We thus made a faux stop at the Fresh Stop to see what would become of them. They were forced to walk on as it was clear that we were onto them. That is when we knew that there was trouble in the land. So much so that a couple of days later, on our way to the Fresh Stop for our late night cup of coffee and doughnuts, we were constantly on the lookout for these dodgy characters.
Which brings us to the events of yesterday – from which the urgency of this letter is borne. On my way back from Willows, after a successful and fruitful meeting with some of Mangaung’s top literati, just near the Sasol service station on First Avenue, I heard a commotion and saw two men running – one chasing the other. It was clear that the man in front had snatched something from his pursuer. Probably a phone. I tensed up a bit – I had my phone, Kindle and laptop with me at the time. Too much to lose at one go. I stopped at the service station, grabbed a cup of coffee and considered my options. I figured I was just being paranoid so I trudged on. On the right side of the road stood a man – tall and light skinned – looking in my direction ominously. There was also a security company vehicle parked in that general area. I felt a bit safe; but as an extra precautionary measure I crossed to the other side of the road. The man slowly walked on his side in the general direction I was headed. He stopped briefly behind the electricity transmitter as if to pick up something, and proceeded to track my movements. I knew then and there that the streets were no longer safe; I turned left into the Waterfront mall and took a cab home.
An hour after I had settled at home, I got a text from Morena. He had none of my clairvoyance that night. And on his way back from school, he met our three friends on Zastron Street. They managed to snatch his sling bag before he could collect his wits and run. A chase ensued; and he tells me that he was not going to be able to outrun them had the police not showed up in the far distance, and his pursuers quit the chase before they could be spotted.
In the bag, kind lady, were his textbooks (which I am sure the city council would not be categorically against replacing as an act of human kindness) and – this breaks my heart – our VIP tickets to the Bloem Beer Fest happening as I write this letter. And as such not only have we lost the sanctuary of our beloved city; we – the art patrons we are – have been reduced to mere off-the-shelf philistines.
Now my lady I understand it is not necessarily in your purview to ensure that #ArtLivesHere (that is a struggle we shall wage tirelessly), but for the arts to flourish, the city ought to be safe so that we can walk the streets safely in search of the next do and paint the night beautiful with our laughter and banter. Also as tax-paying law-abiding (and we trust that our landlords are paying their municipal rates) denizens of this our beloved city, we have the right to walk it at any time of the day without any fear whatsoever. And it is this struggle Ma’am that, as our elected representative, we hope and urge you champion – to keep our streets safe.
Mpho Matsitle & Morena Moabi
25 March 2017