The South African government hates informal settlements and the communities that live there. They pretend such communities do not exist and have made minimal changes to accommodate, pun intended, the different dynamics of the experiences of people who come from informal settlements. In addition to the obvious fact that life in these settings is extremely difficult, without proper sanitation, roads and electricity, the government continues to ignore issues confronted by informal settlement residents as they attempt to go on with their lives in a country that is obsessed with pretending we are equal and that all is well. Failing to pick up trash is pretty much the most basic sign that your government equates you to a pig, but that is no surprise. What is surprising is how life outside of these areas is very difficult for these residents, and how no one makes mention of it.
Everywhere, you have to fill in forms, in which a ‘valid’ residential or postal address is a compulsory requirement. This does make sense, so that you may be verified and easy to get hold of. But what if I live in a tree? Okay forget that. What about those who reside in informal settlements? In most cases these areas do not even have so called valid addresses, except for the shack number. Most professional institutions and corporate entities insist on a valid address and yet many South Africans live in informal settlements. The interesting aspect here is that post 1994, the politically correct term for what was then ‘squatter camps’ became informal settlements. The reason behind this was purely political and historical. Squatter camps suggests that people are ‘camping’ (temporarily inhabiting) an area in which one is not necessarily permitted. It casts these communities as unlawful citizens, staying in a piece of land without approval, a reality which resonated with Apartheid laws.
Well, great. Change the terms and make everything sound cute and correct. But changing the actual experiences of communities in informal settlement has remained one more ask too many to our government. Persons from these areas still have to get addresses from relatives or friends to gain access to state resources and gain access to other basic services in this country, such as banking services, gaining access to schools and higher learning institutions, applying for jobs, entering competitions and everything else in between.
To paint the picture, a student from an informal settlement cannot get complete a mere Financial Aid application form to seek government funding for studying because they can’t declare successfully where they are from. Their classist country deems their background invalid and informal. The irony could not be more obvious and upsetting. No one seems to be aware that not everyone has the pathetic address required.
Although this may differ from one office to another, it is in my awareness that in order to get a small business to be funded by the government, one has to provide their own ‘valid’ address, proof of lease for the place in which the prospective business will operate and a municipal green light to confirm that that place is open for such practices. Informal settlements have such organised systems going for them.
Not to mention that an ambulance struggles to make its way through the actual informal settlements, often having to stop miles away from where emergencies are because well, really the takalani roads do not always allow so much as half a tyre to go through.
Many of such systems are administered by the state, and yet the state that is pretending that such settings as informal settlements do not exist.
This discrimination and explicit humiliation casts residents of informal settlements as second rate citizens whose access to government and other basic human services is rendered that much more difficult because they are not living in houses that the very same government has failed to build for them in the last twenty years.
Matriculants who have access to electricity and television have access to programmes that aid pupils with school work. And yet our government has failed to recognise that pupils from informal settlements do not have the same access. No alternative means are made for such students whose entire experience is helped by a candle.
Why is it that we live in a country where you cannot open a bank account, apply for a school, small business funding, fill in a form online, apply for an internship or whatever else, get an ambulance to be outside your house, get equal opportunity to actually finish school, if you are from an informal settlement?
Its because 'the poor' is just a political card that gets played when campaigning starts, and then ends after it is no longer of use.
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