George - Forgotten is the word most shack dwellers living in a settlement near George use to describe their “republic”.
“The only time people come here is when they are lost,” Lewiesa Hendricks says with a roll of her eyes.
“I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to come here either.”
- Click here to see how residents in George voted in previous elections
She has been living in the shack land that is Suiwerfontein for 20 years, since she ran away from home at the age of 12.
Most of the residents are elderly, former farm workers or desperate drifters with nowhere else to go.
“Nobody is here by choice. This place is nothing to come to. You share a toilet with 100 other people and walk a distance to get to a communal tap to pour water for your family to use. Who wants a life like this?”
‘Four walls of my own’
Most of the Suiwerfontein residents are unemployed. Those who are employed earn a living working for minimal pay on the farms, says 60-year-old Katriena Isaacs.
“I picked lettuce for less than R400 a week for years until my body told me it wasn’t able to do that anymore. The farmer I worked for wasn’t interested in my ailments. He chucked me off his land with nothing but the clothes on my back.”
Isaacs, who has no children after losing her daughter who was 10 at the time, says she stumbled upon Suiwerfontein and begged for a place to sleep from strangers.
She now lives with an abusive alcoholic boyfriend because she has no one else to turn to.
“I wish I had a home of my own. Even if it was just four walls for me to put my bed in. I would be so grateful. But I know that that will never happen. I lost that hope when the politicians who promised that last elections never came back.”
While housing is a desperate need to the residents living in 5m x 5m homes, Rosieta Scheepers, 40, says the first person to promise to build a school for Suiwerfontein’s children will have her vote.
“I don’t care what party you come from – just promise me that you will help my babies one day make it out of here. Education is the only thing that will stop them from ending up as cheap labour on the farms,” says the mother of three.
Scheepers raises her two daughters and son on her own as her boyfriend is serving a seven-year sentence for rape and attempted murder.
She dropped out of school in Grade 4 and depends on a social grant to look after her children.
“I have seen for myself how hopeless life is without an education. My children know that there is no excuse to stay out of school. They value their books because it’s their ticket out of here,” she says.
Her eldest daughter, Kayley, 9, dreams of becoming a doctor. Her 7-year-old sister Chantell wants to be a police officer.
‘We don’t want handouts’
Every day they walk for close to an hour to get to their nearest primary school because Scheepers can’t afford to pay R300 for a taxi to drop them off at the gate.
“Come rain or shine, they put their bags on their backs and walk down these gravel roads to learn. I am proud of them – they have never failed a year and come home with good reports every term,” Scheepers beams.
She stays home to look after her 2-year-old son, Harry.
“He will follow in their footsteps and get an education. These girls will never end up drunk and pregnant as long as I am alive. I just wish their school was closer so that it would be easier for them.”
Hendricks says the only time she would allow a politician into her home was if he could give her a job creation plan for the people of Suiwerfontein.
“Most of us are able-bodied, eager workers who can’t find jobs. We don’t want anyone’s handouts. We want to earn a decent wage and look after ourselves. But here, we are stranded.
“If they want my vote, give me a job. Help me to earn my dignity. I am tired of feeling like I am a worthless human taking up space.”
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