Zita Park in Garsfontein, Pretoria – a place of fun and reconciliation for all
Fun in the sun on the last day of school
Friday 12 December 2008 was my daughter Caitlin’s last day of nursery school. Next year it's “big school” – grade 1 and the start of a whole new phase of life!
To mark the auspicious day we invited two of her friends to come with her to a nearby fast food joint for some celebratory junk food and then to a nearby park for a swim.
Caitlin and her two friends Tlotlang Noosi and Canan tucked into burgers and chips at the Wimpy in a nearby mall and then it was off to Zita Park.
I have been taking Caitlin to this beautiful park in suburban Pretoria since she was 18 months old. She has always loved it.
This past year Caitlin has been going to swimming lessons and is now totally confident in the water, though she might not be a threat to future South African swimming Olympians!
The park has a lovely splash pool with a long, fairly steep water slide which is always a source of great fun. The park is also a place where people of many different backgrounds come together to have fun, ride bikes, throw Frisbees, fly kites, play football or cricket, enjoy that quintessential South African outdoor activity, the “braai” (elsewhere known as a barbecue).
The park itself has a somewhat difficult history. Back in 2006 there was a concerted effort by some local residents, in my view from racist motives, who tried to use crime and health scares as a way to force the City Council to start charging an entrance fee for the use of the park.
Nothing came of these efforts, but there was a positive spin-off in that more information about the park and its history came to light as a result of the interest that the dispute aroused in the local historical society, the Tshwane Building Heritage Association.
According to an article in the Pretoria News of 10 August 2006: “The association's research found that the Eastwood location was established on the Garsfontein farm in 1905. There was a cemetery on the eastern boundary.”
Zita Park was created on the centre of this cemetery after the area had been declared a “white area” in terms of the Group Areas Act of 1950. This proclamation of the area as white led to the “removal” of the black residents of the area formerly known as Eastwood Location. The Chief Executive Officer of the Association, Anton Jansen, has suggested that the park be renamed “Reconciliation Park”.
To turn the negative into a positive the association recommended that a memorial stone, garden or wall be erected to commemorate "this tragic history, and to celebrate the spirit of reconciliation and hope for the future".
So in my mind it is entirely fitting that the park is so well used by such diverse people. I find it delightful that my blonde, blue-eyed daughter can make friends with other little girls whose complexions are quite different.
She learns so much from interacting with different children, and I feel so at home in a place where we all just relax and have fun together without worrying about differences. For me the park is truly a place of reconciliation, a place where we can learn to get on with each other despite differences, in an atmosphere of fun and relaxation.
Update - 2010
An entrance fee is now charged - a very nominal one. I just hope that this fee does not discourage people from coming to the park. As far as I can tell people are happy to pay this small fee as there are still lots and lots of people in the park every weekend.
The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.
© Tony McGregor 2008