David sits at a bar-table placed along one of the big windows in one of Long Streets many coffee shops. It is September and outside the rain is pouring down even though it should be spring and sunshine. Occasional pedestrians are passing by outside in Long Street, one of the most intense tourist streets in Cape Town CBD, central business district. David is only one of the many shop owners in the mostly Victorian houses in bright colours, with verandas and ornamented iron railings. Now he is telling the story about William. William is one of the street children who have become a more and more influential part of the street life - together with street vendors, vagrants, beggars, thieves and informal parking guards. He used to hang outside the coffee shop, begging from the by-passers. Now and then David gave him some food, and he tended to turn up in the mornings when David was alone in the pub to prepare for opening the daily business. One morning David asked if William could help him by sweeping the pavement outside the door in the mornings. Then he would get breakfast in return, an arrangement that William seemed to accept and everything seemed fine for at short while. One day when David went to the bank, though, William was gone when he returned and the broom was lying on the pavement. William never showed up again at the coffee shop and a few weeks later David found him further downtown together with some other street kids, sitting in the street. They where sniffing glue and conversation was impossible. David tried to reach out to him, but was told to go to hell. After that incident, David never saw him again, and has no idea what happened.
This story about David and William that I was told during a fieldwork in Cape Town a few years ago, reflects a quite typical problem in the post-apartheid South Africa. The absence and presence in the cityscape has become an issue in relation to discussions on democracy and civil rights, as different citizens now conquer places from which they during apartheid was excluded. The issue is closely related to processes related to power, and the dramatic South African context certainly can be used to clarify the issue also in a European context. Who has the right to be present in the city and under what conditions?
Raising this question, my aim is to discuss how streets and squares are not only physical places but also mental constructions in which categories, boundaries and attitude become important. Michel de Certeau has stressed the importance of viewing the city as both a place, basically the fixed physical setting, and space, created by the moving practices that makes the place become a living field of interactions and memory, creating certain rhythms and atmospheres (de Certeau 1984:117). From this perspective David and William are both constantly part of the creation of the city, bringing in their different thoughts, experiences and in their actions in the cityscape. They become part of the story of how things are in Cape Town, and this raises the need to discuss how people will be identified in the street and what concept will be created in interactions and narratives.