Scene Two: Heritage Interviews

Maitland Garden Village has a rich history and unique building structures, making it a possible contestant for becoming a recognised heritage community. MGV was established in 1920 and was built as a place to house soldiers during World War I. The homes in MGV have a semi-detached structure unique from anywhere else in South Africa that originated in areas of England such as Manchester. This, and MGV’s rich history including beautiful gardens and resisting relocation by the apartheid government, makes MGV a community that the City of Cape Town’s Department of Environmental and Heritage Management may be interested in developing into a heritage area. Becoming a heritage area could have benefits, such as funding for maintaining houses through this government branch, and disadvantages, such as possible limitations on home renovations and potential relocation of backyard dwellers. Before any paperwork is done to make MGV a heritage zone, we spoke to three older community members who were born in MGV and still live there or have very close ties to the community to delve further into their background as a community.

Cast of Characters:
Our team had the privilege of talking to three older MGV community members; David Trout, Margaret Southgate, and Martin Julies to hear about the heritage of MGV and what growing up there was like. David Trout is Ronell’s uncle. David grew up in MGV and has since moved locally but is still a very active member in the community who is very up to date on what is occurring there. Margaret was also born in MGV and has lived there her whole life. She is a member of the Roarin’ Sixties club in MGV for residents over sixty years old. She holds a lot of the records and old photos from the village. Martin Julies is a leader of the Green Light Project and was also born in MGV and has lived there his whole life. All three of them had fathers that were very involved in holding their community together, such as city councilman. Sheila was also present as we interviewed them.

Pathway and MGV teams with our sponsors and community members

Our team arrived at the city-run community centre to meet with the group Sheila arranged for us to interview about MGV’s heritage and gardens. We arrived and the community members both our team and the WPI community help centre’s team would be working with were present, sitting in a circle. When we arrived, we grabbed chairs and made the circle spread out. After briefly introducing ourselves and our project, we asked if we could video record their introductions. No one opposed so they went around the circle and introduced themselves and their role in the community. When our teams broke into groups, we moved to the back of the room to circle around the pool table and the other stayed in the front of the room around the wooden table. We proceeded to videotape the conversation that followed; scurrying around with the camera to ensure whoever was speaking had it pointed at them. It was not an easy task considering David, Margret and Martin kept cutting each other off. It was often a little hard to hear each other with the other group talking across the room, but we all leaned in and did our best. Despite the frequent tangents that were often taken, we learned a lot of valuable information about the history of MGV and the role gardening once had in the community.

When we first started going around the circle introducing ourselves, some were more brief than others. Some people just mentioned their name and they were leaders in the Green Light Project or members of the resident council. Others were more lengthy, like Mr. Trout whom proceeded, in his introduction, to tell us how he helped save MGV. We were running out of time on our recording and told him we had to move on. While the story was very interesting, we couldn’t make the other WPI team late for their meeting with Jennifer Stacy from the Department of Social Development and ECD and it was not particularly relevant to either of our projects. We would have to deal with divergences like this one several times.

Questions we planned to ask relevant to heritage:

  • How long have you lived in MGV? Why did you move there? Tell me about yourself.
  • How has MGV changed over the years?
  • Favorite (and least favorite) thing about MGV
  • What do you know about MGV’s history?
  • How do you feel about community progress/Green Light Project?
  • What other events like MGV day existed?
  • What improvements would you like to see in MGV to help it continue to flourish?
  • Do you feel MGV is still as tight knit as when you first moved in?
  • Do you feel people in MGV are connected to the rich history here?
  • Favorite memory?
  • What kind of amenities do the elderly have?
  • How would you feel about MGV being a heritage area? What would you like to see featured if it was?
  • Do you think younger people in MGV know about their heritage? How can you pass it down?

Questions we planned to ask relevant to gardening:

  • What do you grow in your garden?
  • What do you use it for?
  • How long have you had a garden?
  • Do you think people in MGV take pride in their gardens?
  • Would you like to see more people involved in gardening? Why? What are the benefits? Whats the best way to start?
  • Tell me about your garden
  • How have gardens in MGV changed over the years? Is the Gardening Club?
  • What would you like to see happen with gardening in MGV? With the personal gardens? In the community gardens?
  • Would you be interested in a garden competition? what were the old competitions like?
  • Do you mind if othes take from your garden?
  • Do you produce enough for your family? Would you want to grow to help feed others? Or sell?
  • How do you maintain your garden?

Actions and Observations:
David Trout told us his story of rallying people together to stay in Maitland Garden Village despite the government’s efforts during apartheid to force coloured people out of the village because all of the communities surrounding it were white. Margaret’s father was a chairman of Maitland Garden Village and also fought to keep Maitland Garden villagers from being moved to Kensington. David told us that the houses in Garden Village were built in the style of homes in Manchester, United Kingdom, and that the street names were named for British naval ships. Martin, David, and Margaret grew up in the same generation and were the children of military fathers, as the village was originally built around 1920 as housing for returning soldiers from World War I. We learned that the majority of the families that live in Maitland Garden Village even today had fathers or grandfathers in the military.

When we asked about gardening in the village and how it has changed over time, Margaret told us that the size of the gardens has reduced over the years, especially as people have bought cars and turned parts of what used to be gardens into driveways. David and Margaret expanded and said the gardens used to be a large source of pride in the village, so much so that they held competitions where people won trophies and fruit trees as prizes for the best gardens. The minimum criteria for winning was that your garden had to have both vegetables and flowers.

One of the themes that pervaded the conversation was the youth. In all the discussion about the village, our three interviewees agreed that the youth of the village have lost respect and that this has resulted in the slow decline of the community’s unity. They recall that in the past the villagers stuck together more and that the whole village helped to raise one another’s children. They hope to bring back a sense of unity within Maitland Garden Village especially when it comes to parents and children, as it appears that parents will feud if one reprimands the other’s children. They would like to see the village return to a point where people and parents could trust each other, and where the youth were less idle and had a better sense of respect.

The interviews we conducted had many common themes.  For example, the disparity between today’s youth and the older generation was brought up throughout in conjunction with many different topics. They also felt that the MGV community was not as close as it used to be, though the reasoning for these statements were not given. Overall, each individual shared a willingness to speak about their personal histories and answer our questions to the best of their abilities.

Reflections and Learning:
Through our interviews we learned a lot about how we should approach the pathway project. Bringing back garden competitions and the sense of pride people had in their gardens seems to be of utmost importance to helping the community move forward. It will allow villagers to once again work towards a common goal of having beautiful gardens, which is something they can share and take pride in. Delving into the gardening history of the area will also help the community to unify again, as they will be able to rally around a common history. Moreover, it seems that one of the key things to consider when developing a business plan for agricultural opportunities is how to incorporate the youth. Whether this be through paid gardening positions, volunteer positions, gardening skills development, or a combination of all three, involving the youth is definitely a key way to increasing community involvement and unison.

Connecting with youth seems to be challenging in this project.  Scott and Bob have tried to get us to work with youth by Ronell and Sheila connecting us with interested individuals, but there was no one our age to talk to in this meeting.  There also seems to be a bias against the youth based on the older generation’s account that they have changed significantly for the worst.

One of the challenges we faced through this interviewing process was managing multiple people through one conversation.  Often, people would talk for a long time or cut others off.  We have decided that future interviewing will be done one-on-one to eliminate these issues.

Plans for future scenes:

  •  Create plans for pathway centered around agriculture and community involvement
  •  Meet with youth in MGV and brainstorm good ways of improving the relationship between the youth and older generations?
  •  Find out how people feel about youth programs?
  •  Marketing community pride and unison
  •  Marketing gardening and gardening business as a way of community involvement and unison
  •  Find pictures of garden competition winners, trophies, prizes, etc.
  •  Find pictures of old gardens
  •  Look into history of Maitland Garden Village: Socially, Militarily, Agriculturally