Wealth gap: The other side of the street

2015-03-08 15:00

Pensioner Isaac Mosebi is furious: “It’s just not fair that we have had to work so hard for what we have and the less fortunate expect us to simply hand over our things.”

Mosebi (78) has lived in Protea South since 1990. When he bought his house, everyone said it would becoming a booming suburb with schools, parks and amenities.

Riding the wave of early 1990s optimism as apartheid fell and democracy was being ushered in, he, like many other residents, cashed in his savings and bought his dream home in this up-and-coming working class neighbourhood in Soweto.

But even as the proud new homeowners on Windsor Street began to grow their gardens and make improvements to their houses, the dream began to disintegrate. From 1994 onwards, Windsor Street residents were increasingly joined across the road by unwanted new neighbours – desperate shack dwellers who started to make their makeshift homes out of cardboard and corrugated iron sheets.

Crime spread quickly and Protea South and Protea Glen now have one of the highest rates anywhere in South Africa.

For Mosebi, this encroachment became a tale of two worlds on one street. “Remember Mandela’s famous line that no one owns land? Now here we are.”

From his big house, lush garden and locked gate, one has a view of multicoloured shacks and dusty paths across Windsor Street.

Mosebi’s next door neighbour, Richard Diale, says he worked hard all his life so he could buy his house and a truck, which he uses to make extra money to supplement his pension. But in December, the truck’s battery was stolen for the fourth time in a year.

“They came and stole it again at 2am. Police don’t care; they take their time and no one is ever caught. I have to spend so much money replacing what they have taken.”

Diale is among many who have fallen victim to theft in the area. According to 2013/14 crime statistics, Protea Glen – which incorporates Protea South – saw a 94% increase in house robberies.

Residents blame the people living in the settlement across the road.

Inside the settlement, the shacks are small and many are stacked up next to each other as building continues towards the N12 highway.

The wealth gap is stark in this area. On one side of the street are big, suburban-style houses with high walls; some have electric fencing and beautifully manicured gardens. Children rush around on their bikes and play with their dogs.

Yet on the other side of the street, you’ll see women doing laundry in steel washing basins and carrying children on their backs. The insides of the shacks are dark, and the only places the children can play are the hard, dusty paths.

Nomahlubi Ngombane, a 25-year-old student who lives in her late grandmother’s house on the “posh” side of Windsor Street, says her state of the art alarm system was installed after thieves made numerous attempts to enter her house through its double-door garage.

“People here spend more money on security systems than anything else,” she explains.

Other residents – such as Betty Thapedi, who works at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital – think more security means more trouble: if a thief jumps over the high walls, she says, “he can do what he wants because nobody can see him”.

After she was woken up one afternoon by people jumping over her wall, she decided it was time to get a dog.

Ngombane says that although she can see the poverty from which people on the other side of the street suffer, she believes crime would remain high even if there were more jobs in South Africa.

“A while ago, we hired a gardener who lived on that side. We fed him and paid him every week. But he ended up stealing from us and selling my grandmother’s flowers and stuff. What do you do then? You try to help, as they think you should, and then they turn on you,” she says.

But the crime in the area doesn’t affect only those living on the more affluent side of Protea South.

Last month, 25-year-old Nthabiseng Mofokeng’s little shack was broken into at night. She and her son slept through the robbery.

“I have never been that shocked. They took everything, DVDs, clothes, food – everything,” she says.

Unemployment is no excuse to steal, Mofokeng says.

“If people want to steal, they will. It has nothing to do with whether you are poor or not. I don’t have a job, but I would never go into someone else’s house and take what doesn’t belong to me.”

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