Witlokasie in Knysna. (Tammy Petersen, News24)
Knysna - Shackdwellers living in a Knysna township feel they are a dirty secret hidden from visitors to the Garden Route town.
In Witlokasie, situated at the end of a long uphill drive from the scenic Main Road, children play on the pavements and older people sit outside their shacks and RDP homes.
Dozens of locals wearing blue DA T-shirts were on the streets on Wednesday, when DA leader Mmusi Maimane visited the area. Those who listened to him welcomed his promises of housing, electricity, and basic services.
While a number say they will “vote for change” in next month’s local government elections, not everyone is as eager to head for the polls.
Georgie Nkosi, 49, finds it insulting that politicians come to canvas in her neighbourhood when they “haven’t done anything worth talking about since the last elections”.
“Look at the wonderful lives led by the rich people in town, while a few kilometres away, behind the hills, we are living the same way we did at the time of the last elections. This dirty place isn’t seen by the tourists who come here to take photos and stay at the fancy places on the Main Road,” she says.
“I’m telling you, this place is exactly the same as it was over 10 years ago, except a couple of houses have been built for a few people. I am still living with the same problems I had in 2006 and nobody cares.”
She shares a tap with more than 10 families and the communal toilets are so unpleasant she prefers to use a bucket.
Huffs and puffs uphill
“Life is hard here. While I have a job and am able to provide for my children, I don’t think I will ever be able to move out of here and give them a better life,” the part-time cleaner says.
Every day before sunrise she walks down the main road to town, and huffs and puffs uphill at the end of the day to get back home.
“But I am one of the lucky ones. You will find most of the adults who are of working age sitting outside their shacks during the day because they can’t find work. Where are the jobs we were promised since the start of democracy? I won’t vote for any one of these politicians. None of the commitments they make ever amount to anything.”
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Justice Mda, 51, has lived in Witlokasie for the past decade and finds election season amusing.
“I’m not stupid. We will never live like the fancy people down the road. We will always be here in this place with the broken road and stinky toilets,” he says.
“I don’t fall for the politicians’ cheap promises of this and that and blah blah blah. I either don’t vote or vote for the party I have been with since 1994. But even they are useless,” he says.
The father of two believes he will die in the shack he shares with his children, wife and mother-in-law.
“And that’s okay. I don’t need a handout.”
Student Lelethu Zana, 23, says talk is cheap in the months leading up to elections.
“All politicians promise the same things to the poor and desperate – housing. It is a sensitive topic for people who desperately want to raise their families in better conditions. But where are they when it is time to deliver?” she asks.
The student identifies as a DA supporter, but is not a blind follower of any political party.
“I listen because I want to make an informed choice. But many listen with their hearts. Who doesn’t want their own toilet and their own tap with clean running water? But when it is time to deliver, who says we will actually see everything that was promised?”
Not everyone is as sceptical.
Bonang Cele, 19, is excited to make her way to the polls as she is finally old enough to take part in an election.
“My parents complain all the time about the conditions here in Witlokasie. I am all about action. If you feel someone isn’t doing their job, you should kick them out with the weapon all citizens have – the right to vote,” she says.
“When my uncle, who was active in the struggle, talks about all they had to do to give us the opportunity to have a say in who rules the country, I get goose bumps. Why doesn’t everyone make use of the opportunity?”
Cele has thought long and hard about who she will choose to be her local representative.
“My vote is my secret,” she says with a laugh. “But it is for someone I believe is interested and determined to make our community better. It’s something we desperately need.”