Category / Community

Cry the beloved lane

Posted on 12 August 2011 by Sybrandus Adema

13 Bakkie loads. A few hundred human hours. Just over a R1 000. Blood, sweat, tears, dust and dead rats. That’s what it took to turn a sick Woodstock service lane into a healthy communal space. Sybrandus Adema got all the dirt.

It all started innocently enough… Having just moved into Woodstock, we were strolling around the hood when we noticed something. Whereas some service lanes, such as Woodworm and Wadham, where attractive havens of peace, the one behind our house, between Chamberlain and Balfour Streets, looked as if it had been hit by various aerial bombing raids since 1971. Or a tropical cyclone dressed up as a Southeaster last summer.

One thing led to another, and before I knew it, a terrible affliction dug its claws into me – a monster called Lane Envy. My soul was tormented by thoughts: These lanes are the blood vessels pumping through the neighbourhood. They carry fresh water supplies, storm water, telephone lines; they serve as emergency exits in case of fire and crime. They are alternative entrances to properties – for emergency personnel, for gardening, moving and building purposes. And most are gated at both sides, so they are safe places for children to play in, learn how to ride a bicycle, grow some vegetables in pots, take the cats for a walk…

Why was ours a clogged artery, full of rubble, weeds, dog excrement, dead rats, broken lights? Hounslow Lane/Steeg (the road sign is covered by a Frangipani) was surely a heart attack ticking away behind the back wall, a tunnel filled with mounds of shrapnel where the homeless and the criminal can hide… and where many feel comfortable enough to turn it into an even bigger rubbish dump. This even though some neighbours cleared the Lane a few years ago, marked all the properties with numbers and left numerous signs imploring “Keep our Lane Glam” and “No dumping, please”.

As swearwords in four languages couldn’t describe the trauma, only one thing remained – actually doing something about it. Following one creation of an email address and one flyer (outlining the problems, the hopes, the photos of the crime scene) distributed to all 63 adjoining properties, the support for the Lane cleanup started emailing in. Not many, but enough to get the cleansing ball rolling.

The first goal was to get rid of a lonely ‘car wreck’, abandoned for years in the middle of the Lane. A few people phoning the traffic police until they couldn’t take it anymore did the trick. Owner of said vehicle pleaded with the officers not to tow it away – and they forced him to park it in Chamberlain Street, better known for its trees than ample parking space. Ag, small victories are better than none.

The weather forecast looked good, the timing was right, the email went out, and another flyer was launched: coming Saturday would be L Day. Alas, most of the cyber participants were out of town (or something) but many donated or promised money. Some came whispering “It’s not my rubble there” or “It was the owner before me” or “I’m sure it’s neighbour Sies that dumped those things there”. No point in crying over spilt rubbish; the important issue was, how many people would pitch up?

Saturday morning. 9AM. Caffeine kicking in. I open the door slowly. I peer down the Lane.

And what a sight it was. First one person, then two, some more peeking out of their gates, and soon the sound of 12 scraping shovels resonated throughout the Lane. The doctor, the paint seller, the chef, the journalist, the carpenter, the filmmaker – all targeting their pet-hate rubble pile. Transport was a problem, but later two bakkies attacked the mounds of rubble from both sides. We met the neighbours, got sweaty and exchanged pleasantries. Within hours the place looked like disaster emergency workers and an NGO had arrived to save the day – the only thing missing was CNN. Down at the Woodstock dump, the trouble was separating some of the rubbish – wood, plastic garden, ‘clean’ building rubble, mice – but the people working there are cool, and masters of recycling (if you need compost, swing by).

To get rid of the last mounds took another 2 days, and many more bakkie loads. The participants dried up, more money poured in and extra help was bought as a few die-hards attacked the last gemors. No Parking and No Dumping signs went up on the gates. And then a well-paid immigrant attacked it with a broom, to place his stamp of approval on the sweeping change…

To celebrate, a  ‘Reclaim the Lane’ party took place – the most popular and well attended of all the gatherings. This time armed with chairs, tables, braai equipment, food, drinks and more plans to make this communal space (all 850m of it) more convivial, neighbours converged on the centre throughout the day. People opened their Lane-facing garages, put on music and got the fires going. Kids played, dogs barked, cats came to investigate. One group of neighbours looked over their wall, wondering if they could jump over or needed to walk all around. No, no, no, we said, and within seconds the prefab cements slabs were lifted off to create an entrance to their new ‘streetscape’. What was supposed to be a brunch went on until dark – with much fun, laughter, and handshaking, not to mention stories regarding the Lane’s history, the vrot to hot transformation and a particular offender who constantly misplaces the gate keys.

A spring jol is next in the pipe-lane, so the question is, who has Lane Envy now, mmmmmm? Maybe the people around Rainham Lane (this is not a subtle hint!)…

PS: Once a service lane is gated, the city council will not clear the rubble, but will still look after the infrastructure (lights, water pipes etc). Many Woodstockers have decided the best way to (not) deal with lane issues, is to go into denial by closing up their back walls and decorating it with barbed wire, broken glass and electric fencing.

Here’s the challenge: Turn your trashy service lane or alley into a beautiful haven and send in your stories and photos to If your lane is not gated, to have it cleaned you can call Cape Town City’s Solid Waste department on 0860 103 089 or email (and report illegal dumping to them as well). The Roads and Stormwater department (broken roads/lane surfaces) can be contacted via 0860 103 054 or and Water & Sanitation department (leaks, sewerage) on 0860 103 089 or We can’t wait to see the Before and After pics!

19 Comments For This Post

  1. Finchette Says:

    Well-done!Such a lovely intitaive… So so jealous – we’ve got no lane behind our house – got a serious case of lane envy…. Can we come to the spring jol?

  2. Dina Says:

    serious lane party envy! We used to live on the Mountain Road side of Chamberlain and had lots of parties in Rainham Lane. But we moved down Chamberlain Street to the other side of Roodebloem and the darker side of Rainham *sets heart on creating Rainham party place*

  3. Vivienne Says:

    Ausome!!! well done guys, you make me wish I had a lane too. Looks great.

  4. Graeme Copley Says:

    Well done Woodstock! Nearly time for a spring jawl- early Sept? Sat 10th?

  5. darryl Says:

    great initiative, well done. our lane works well, and yes the kids do use it and love it

  6. Hannere Says:

    Dina contact me – I also live on the messier side of Rainham Lane and would love to get like-minded people together…

  7. Evelyn Cupido Says:

    I would like to know if there is anybody that can send me photos of Pine road Woodstock…..we lived there in the 1948…50′s Im imigrated to Australia in 1981…but seeing these pictures just make me want to visit one more time we lived at 53a pine road…just aboe the shops…went to bioscope every saturday morning..attended st Mary’s Church…and watched the photos every sunday arvo in Van Kalkers studio…those were the days…Regards
    Evelyn.Hoping to here from u guys soon.

  8. marc Says:

    looks nice now, but a huge heap of rubble has re-appeared already. It is said to be from 33 Chamberlain.

  9. PhIlippa Says:

    This is amazing. We own 37 Chamberlain and when we first moved in tried to clean up the lane but it’s a massive task for two people. We don’t live in the house at the moment so have tenants there right now, but would definitely have rocked up to help. Please add me to the mailing list for future cleanups:
    This makes me proud to be a Woodstocker :)

  10. sYBRANDUS Says:

    Thanks for the responses. As of 2012, Graeme is in charge of the Hounslow Lane email list. Please contact him on
    PS: Well done to whomever cleaned up a stretch of Rainham Lane, close to Roodebloem. Vasbyt!

  11. Adrian selfe Says:

    A huge thank you to everyone involved!! it really looks amazing! I’m Philippa’s husband and as she said, we spent a weekend trying to clear the lane ourselves – with a huge bakkie full of rubbish – but many hands really do make light work. We’re planing on moving back in 2013 so cant wait to see it myself!

  12. Sandy Buchanan Says:

    Done and dusted , we got the beauganvilla trimmed and a long stretch of the lane from our section downwards ,, now to clear the bags of branches to peace garden ,,

  13. Sandy Buchanan Says:

    I have lived in Balfour St for last 30 plus years with never having an issue with neighbours or them having issue of any note … This saga started last year about February where virtually the entire street both sides bordering hounslow lane got an anonomous letter requesting people to not exercise or walk their dogs in the lane , the lane community I know treated this anonomous letter with the contempt it deserved ..
    I will keep storyline abbreviated as much as possible …
    All quiet till one day a couple of months down the line a whole lot of us got warnings from law enforcement for barking dogs while walking in the lane .. I engaged law enforcement who were inbetween rock and a hard place as they have to react to such complaints and issue warnings , further summon to court …
    I then the one evening purely by accident engaged the person ( who for shall remain un named lest I have lawyers on my back ) I told him what I thought of his actions ,, apologies extended and an offer to meet the community ( being a newcomer ) this “ truce “ was short lived with me now suddenly seemingly being targeted by this individual to the point that I warned him to stop stalking me ,,
    In the interim I did research on city and noise nuisance by laws and public nuisance laws , indeed a minefield .. how long a pooch is allowed to bark … when etc … Now my dogs live inside the house and have permanent access to the garden and do not bark incessantly , all that we have been able to work out is this individual seems to object to our gated lane being used for social and recreational purpose to the point of one Sunday morning at close to 09:00 actually moving children playing away from the vicinity of his home .. seems to object to people having their dogs in the lane as they disturb him .. the term being letting your dogs loose .. in the by law it states 20 minute incessant barking , a brief 30 second episode is in his book public nuisance .. In public nuisance incessant noise after 22:00 …
    I eventually got city legal to agree to get law enforcement to do an on site evaluation , they found no valid reason for complaint ., but to date will not give any written feedback … mmmmm ?? tied up in their own red tape .??
    In a attempt to defuse a destructive situation I suggested , no dogs out before 07:00 or after 22:00 … got SMS back which really got my back up stating” I have been monitoring you and logging times etc “( a vague feeling of being “ stalked “ ?? ) .. time to step back and correctly so .. many evenings observing from my bedroom balcony this individual walking up and down the lane whenever dogs that are in the back yards barking at a cat on the wall or whatever , the journey always being to my back gate and then back down again … being observed by neighbours standing at back gates recording dogs barking ( in broad daylight ?? ) the very standing at the back gate encouraging a dog to bark ? taking pictures of a single lady neighbor exercising her dog in the lane
    Then the shifting of goalposts ,, one Saturday in September last year evening an impromptu gathering in a neighbours garden ( she too having had bad previous encounter with said individual ) everybody’s back gates open food and drinks being ferried … at about 21:30 impromptu party disbands everybody shuffles off home .. about a minute or so afterwards going back to close my gate I see the all too familiar shape of the individual walking back down the lane , dismiss it as absolute foolery and lock my gate I then remembered that I had left something at the one neighbor ,, walk out to meet the neighbor who was informed that there was somebody lurking in the lane by our homes ,,, looking down the lane we both see the individual hugging the wall trying not to be seen , ( why ? scared of more than one person ? lurking ? stalking ? what ?? ) We decided not to engage as we actually found it hilarious , this person hugging the wall trying to hide behind a lightpost .. 22:00 shifting to 21:30 on a Saturday night ??
    Again this creepy feeling pervading … being spied on stalked ??

    Further … on many evenings hearing a dog barking incessantly many evenings at a house diagonally opposite said individuals home and upon my following up .. no complaint laid ?? why ??
    Since that catching in the act incident all went quiet or at least my observation as the individual has made it obvious to all by his rude ignoring behavior which actually was a relief as I did not have to try engage or even be polite as any attempt in my book by experience would be taken advantage of or goalposts shifted . .. till last evening .. the horrible end to a nice evening out …
    We get home from a nice dinner , hear some minor noise in the lane … I go out with my dogs to investigate .. my one pooch agitated by the noise runs to next door neighbours gate and barks for not even 20 seconds .. suddenly out of the shadows much further down the lane I see someone walking toward me , did a bit of a double take but stand my ground ,, still say to my dogs “ who the hell is this ?? well its the individual again …
    Straight into my face pure aggression , I am inconsiderate … yada yada and its after 22:00 .. he in such an agitiated state that I can apart from being absolutely gobsmacked at this attack I can barely explain reason for being out in the lane , and that seeing as he was already in the lane and fully dressed and came from lower down was obviously walking around .. and that it was not my dogs that were disturbing his sleep as he was already awake and very active … seems I was very conveniently now the focus of his ire …
    To quote “ you guys think you own this lane , well watch me I will shut you down ,, this is council property “ what does he mean by that ??
    My last retort to him was again “ stop stalking me “
    Actually we the active community do “own “ the lane we keep it clean at our own expense and labour ( unlike said neighbor who to best knowledge has not contributed financially or physically and does not try to engage community ) whose only seeming purpose of the lane is to look for trouble or to try control a community .. In that I initially challenged him gives me the spooky feeling of being targeted …
    My internal debate is .. Am I or certain individuals being “ stalked “ /targeted ?? that feeling wont go away ?? do I/ we actually go to the point of going and laying a charge of harassment / stalking ?? or am I / we really just the inconsiderate folk we are and should bow to the control desired ?? or is individual misplaced in the community discovering that living cheek by jowl is not a mistakenly quiet haven ???
    Really I am puzzled ,, any input ??

  14. Graeme Copley Says:

    Hi Sandy-

    I am sorry to hear of the disharmony down your end of the lane.

    I agree with you that the lane “belongs” to the people whose properties border- it is a common space which needs to be used and developed for the benefit of the residents.

    I think what you guys down that end have been doing in keeping it tidy,clean, secure and using it for your requirements: children, dogs, social events are all well and good.

    Lets hope with some time and mutual respect these issues can be resolved.

    I am glad you guys are keeping up to date with the laws and abiding by them.

    Maybe we can specifically invite this person to a social function where we can engage, demonstrate a show of community support for each other, and incorporate him or her in as a bonified lane user and so diffuse the conflict.

    Sounds like we should organise a lane party soon!

  15. Sandy Buchanan Says:

    Hi Graeme ,
    thanks for the support ,, its not a nice situation when one feels one is being watched / spied upon in case one ” breaks curfew ” to fuss over “time ” ,, there are the laws and the test of the reasonable man — there is a balance between them ..
    I mean on Friday night I could well have been in another situation , had been at the neighbours and about 22:20 walked back to home with my dogs in tow ,, if he happened to be in the lane being “disturbed” by whatever I would have again been the subject of his ire as I have my dogs with me . pop around for chat and I can give you a bit more gen …

  16. Dylan Says:

    As a proud resident of Woodstock I’m really inspired by this article and the sense of community called to action to create a better shared environment. However the line, “And then a well paid immigrant attacked it with a broom to place his approval on the sweeping change” suddenly made it feel exclusionary. Why is it important to mention that said person is an immigrant (and that they were paid to do their sweeping)? Are they not as much part of the community as anyone else, regardless of whether or not they are South African? The tone comes across like, “Isn’t it great that as a community we can clean up our environment, and then put immigrants to work too?”

    And Sandy, I’m sorry to hear about your neighbor, however the more you pay attention to what he does and the drama around it, the more it will affect your life. Continue enjoying the lane, your dogs and the support of your community. I’m with Graeme, engage and try and encorporate them, and lay down the boundaries.

  17. David Says:

    Great community effort, well done!

  18. Sandy Buchanan Says:

    Well the thorn in the side individual is back in top form again after a reasonable time of going to ground . He had an exchange that ended up not nicely with a neighbour on Sunday morning , yesterday evening at just before 6 PM we in the lane having chat in the lane with neighbour , out he comes and intimates that we should much rather be up at the dog park with our dogs , I informed him that I do walk and excercise my dogs and if he did not notice I am actually doing what neighbours with a safe enclosed lane do that is chat and maybe have a glass of wine , that did not sink in , told him not to try tell me how to run my life .. the tirade started with statement our dogs are disturbing other dogs and making them bark and its disturbing him , now his original gripe was early in the morning and late at night , now the goalposts are moved to broad daylight early evening ?? where does this sort of nonsense stop ?? He intimated that it was ” wrong ” to be socialising in the lane . Now why did residents go to the expense of cleaning and keeping enclosed lanes clean ? simple answer , a meeting place for adults , kids and pets , to be good neighbours . The exchange degenerated down to dog poop and urine , the poop we clean up ,, the final tirade being I will ” shut you people down ” again repeating his threat of lawyering to get there ,… This individual appears to be highly unsociable and has accelerated it by alienating himself from the community by is actions , I told him numeroous times during exchange that he is irritating me and he should much rather go home , to no avail . He appears to be wanting to break down the sense of community we have , has not succeeded via city law enforcement or SPCA and is now trying to bully people to fit into his illogical ideas , he is a latecomer to the area . We never had any problems till this individual moved in ,, says a lot does it not ?? Its no problem standing by ones basic rights but the unpleasantness that his tirades bring into the equation make it vein popping stuff …he has ” stalked ” me and another female neighbour , has invaded privacy by using an ipad / tablet to ” record ” disturbance from his top deck , this device is akin to a wide angle cmaera and was beamed i to our properties , has even pointed it into peoples property to record a dog that he is now disturbing barking .. any take on this ?? i have deliberated a few times laying harrasment charge ..

  19. anona James Says:

    I lived in Woodstock for most of my life, does anyone know the name of the then “Bioscope” which was opposite Altona Fisheries on the main road?

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    [...] are always happy to hear rumours that our story on the cleaning of Hounslow lane had inspired several other groups of Woodstock residents to do the same. Here is another great [...]

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