Even a court order won't make City of Joburg build houses - Slovo Park gran

2016-04-07 10:11

Johannesburg – Miriam Sehloho, 77, gave a cynical laugh when she heard a court had ordered the City of Johannesburg to keep to its 20-year-old promise to build houses for residents living in Slovo Park informal settlement.

When the news broke on Tuesday morning, Sehloho was waiting to see a doctor in an open space near what was known as the community hall.


Miriam Sehloho has been living in Slovo Park since 1994. (All photos by Lizeka Tandwa, News24)

She sat with her daughter Elizabeth, and other women, slowly peeling the skin off a banana.

When asked what she thought of the court's judgment that morning, Sehloho laughed a bit before saying she had heard so many false promises over the years that she no longer believed anything.

"There is nothing new about that [court decision]; we have been complaining for years and nothing has happened," she said.

"I have been fighting since way back when I was still working as a domestic worker. I am now retired, old and sickly and I still live in the same shack. So I do not believe anything will happen."

Stands available

There have been mixed reactions to a judgment on Tuesday by the High Court in Johannesburg that found the City had acted unlawfully when it failed to apply a policy on upgrading informal settlements in Slovo Park for more than 20 years.

Sehloho moved to Slovo Park informal settlement 22 years ago when she heard there were stands available. She had previously lived in Kliptown, also in Soweto.


The postbox where many unemployed youth hang out.

"There was a water problem where I lived. The water from the dam would come into our homes and flood the whole place. Then we heard there were stands here and were told to sit here and wait for the law to take its course."

When she arrived in Slovo Park, during the dawn of South Africa's democracy, Sehloho found that she had to use communal portable toilets, and the nearest water source was in another residential area a few kilometres away from where she lived.

Lost hope

On Tuesday morning, now on her second banana for the day, Sehloho sat and waited patiently to be consulted by the visiting doctor, who had still not arrived.


Residents wait for the mobile clinic to arrive.

The doctor apparently visited the community once a week in a mobile caravan-like vehicle to treat residents, especially children and the elderly, one woman who had brought her child said.

"She parks here and we form a line, but it's only for minor things like a cough or a headache, nothing serious; if it's serious you have to go to the clinic."

The nearest clinic to Slovo Park is a few kilometres away, near Eldorado Park, Sehloho's daughter Elizabeth added.

One resident who was excited about the court's ruling was 44-year-old Andries Mokopanele who had been living and working in Slovo Park since 1989.

"I am happy because this court case has dragged on for so long, we had even lost hope," he said. "It got to a point where we no longer trusted those who we had elected to go and represent us."

No basic services

Mokopanele said when he heard the news on Tuesday morning he asked his employer if he could leave work early and come home because he was so happy, he could not focus.

Mokopanele moved to Johannesburg from Madibogo in the North West in the hopes of finding employment. He rented a room at the factory where he worked, but when he heard about stands which were available in Slovo Park, he joined the waiting list.

"I managed to get myself one around 1990... I gathered money and bought sheets of zinc, I then built myself a shack and I still live there now."

Mokopanele said he had hoped things would change for the better in Slovo Park after the court's ruling. "I believe that we will now work well [with the government]. If it comes from a court, you cannot deny it.

"We would also like to be like other residential areas who have access to basic services like water and electricity. After 21 years of not having any, [the desperation] turns you into a criminal when you really don't want to be. Now all that will change."


A resident sits at what is known as the informal settlement's community hall.

Twenty-year-old Nceba Maranjana agreed with Mokopanele to some extent. He believed it was desperation that drove residents to committing crimes such as illegally connecting water and electricity lines to their homes.

Resort to illegal connections

"Some of us here have no water so we have to resort to crime [by making illegal connections]. When you don't have a fridge, you cannot buy meat for the month.

"Even among your peers it is difficult to keep up with things that happen on TV for instance, because you don't have any electricity at home to watch."


Live wires of illegal electricity connections run from a power line from one of the factories near Slovo Park.


Most of the households in the area had resorted to using paraffin stoves as cooking and heating appliances, but the costs of constantly having to buy paraffin refills was not the only problem. The stoves were often the cause of shack fires, he said.

"Just last week there was a shack that caught fire with the family still inside and we all had to go and help put the fire out. The family survived but they lost a lot of important things, you know."

To his knowledge, there had already been four fires so far this year in the settlement. "But you can't blame the people because it gets cold at night and you want to feel warm."

Marajana said he had heard about the court's ruling but was sceptical. He said he wanted to see action being taken to effect a real change in Slovo Park.

Real houses needed to be built, electric power lines and running water needed to be installed, and people needed to be employed by the city to clear the streets of the dirt and rubble being dumped by the nearby factories, he said.

Invest in youth

Marajana matriculated last year and said the youth in the area also needed to be invested in.

"Some of us are done with school but we don't have access to things that could help us get work or study further and we can see our parents are suffering, they can't afford to pay for us to study further."

Having a playground, soccer field or a theatre in the area would also help keep youngsters who currently had no extra-curricular activities after school busy, he said.

"There are so many kids here in Slovo who are talented, I would love for us to have a theatre and soccer grounds which they could use after school.

"The soccer ground that we do have is not safe, it is near a river, it has tall grass and snakes so the kids don't go there."

He said if he had things his way, he would collect all the schoolchildren who were interested in taking part in some kind of after school activities, and channel them towards whatever they were good at.

Destroying future

"A lot of kids are currently dropping out of school and resort to doing bad things that end up destroying any future that they would have had," he said.

One of Slovo Park's founding residents, Mahlomelane Mthembu, is a highly-respected elder in the community.

The 90-year-old was a member of the community policing forum as well as Slovo Park's Community Development Forum.

On Tuesday, Mthembu said one of the things he was most proud of about the informal settlement was that although residents had been frustrated with the issue of getting decent housing for many years, it had never resulted in any violence.

After hearing about the court's ruling, Mthembu said he was happy knowing that the long fight had finally been won. "Even after I had passed on, my soul was not going to rest easy if our fight for the people who live here was not successful.


Mahlomelane Mthembu is one of the first people to have moved to Slovo Park in 1991.

"I am glad that these young men took the matter forward and fought for this place with a good spirit and not the spirit of war."

According to the socio-economic rights institute of South Africa (Seri), Slovo Park has a population of about 7 000 people who live in about 3 700 households on more than 1 000 informal stands.

Pit latrines

The informal settlement was established in the early 1990s by people who moved to the site in search of land close to their jobs. It was named after Joe Slovo, who was the housing minister at the time.

Most of the occupied land is publicly-owned, with much of the surrounding land owned by the Gauteng provincial government, the non-profit law centre says.

The settlement has about four communal standpipes in each street and 1 050 ventilated improved pit latrines, which were installed in 2005, on each stand.


A communal tap used by residents who do not have access to water or flushing toilets in their yards

There is no electricity and residents use candles for lighting and paraffin stoves for cooking.

"For almost 20 years the Slovo Park community has been promised access to formal services and housing at the settlement," Seri says.

Since 1995, politicians and government officials at all levels of the state had visited the settlement and met with community leaders, reassuring them that development was imminent, it said.

Comply with court order

Feasibility studies were conducted, layout plans developed, Environmental Impact Assessments written, steps to have the area declared a township as well as funding being earmarked for the upgrades.

"However, to date nothing has happened," Seri said.

On Tuesday, the City of Johannesburg was found to have acted unlawfully by failing to apply a policy on upgrading informal settlements in Slovo Park.

The court said the decision not to apply the policy was taken outside the legislative and policy framework applicable to informal settlements.

The City was ordered to make an application for funding to upgrade the area with the housing MEC within three months of the ruling.

Within four months, Mayor Parks Tau had to give the court registrar and the residents' attorneys a report setting out steps taken to comply with the court's order.

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