Having a place called home still a pipedream for Karoo's Karretjie people

2016-04-15 11:33

Johannesburg - The descendants of the "Karretjie" people of the Karoo are demanding better service delivery from their municipality in the Eastern Cape. They are homeless and have been living at the side of a road for 36 years.

Their eight shacks, heaps of wood covered with black plastic, are a few metres from the N10, and trigger many questions from travellers passing by.

Located near Transnet's Fish River railway station, 40km north of Cradock, the roadside dwellers complained to GroundUp about their need for better services.

Recounting the origin of this small but tighly-knit community of about 25 people, Regina Brenwell, 34, said her parents were the famous Karretjie people who travelled the Northern Cape with donkey carts.

The descendants of the "Karretjie" people live in shacks along a dust road a few metres from the N10. (Joseph Chirume, GroundUp)

She has vivid memories of her childhood, growing up in a shack that is still her home today.

"Our parents established this settlement in 1980. They came from the Karoo, where they worked on farms. They would move from one farm to another looking for work. Our parents travelled on donkey carts. Their homes were their carts and they revered their donkeys very much. They were good at sheep shearing and mending fences. The men who live here love this place because the farmers respect them for that.”

Brenwell, who dropped out of school during primary school, said her parents sold all their donkeys and carts after they got jobs on the surrounding farms, upon their arrival in 1980.

'We don’t have toilets here'

She said that, although times had changed, they should not continue living an isolated life. The shacks were not good for their health. She appealed to the municipality to help improve their lives and install a mobile water tank.

"We don’t have toilets here. We scale the farm fences to use as bush toilets. We have to cross the N10 highway to fetch water from the railway station taps. This is dangerous, especially for children, because there are speeding vehicles. It is also very dark at night and our shacks are covered with black plastic that does not reflect in darkness," she said.

Most of the residents speak only Afrikaans, but Brenwell also speaks isiXhosa. Literacy rates are low and no one can speak, read, or write in English.

"We are always coughing because of dust caused by passing vehicles. This place is also waterlogged in winter. The soil is muddy when it is raining. We also have a problem of mosquitoes and frogs and scorpions that crawl into our shacks at night. Winters are cold and windy. Our plastic houses freeze. We have small children here, hence the need for the municipality to help us."

She believes that because of their illiteracy, jobs are difficult to find.

Only a handful of the men work on farms. The only jobs they get are mending fences and sheep shearing, which is seasonal work.

Peto Uthaler, 28, said municipal officials visited them a year ago and promised to build houses for them in Lingelihle township, Cradock.

"We also need houses like other citizens. They are getting better services than us. We have a primary school, but there is no secondary school on these farms," she said.

'Let those who want to go leave'

Some residents however do not want to leave their ancestors' shacks and go to Lingelihle.

"We will go nowhere. The government should build us houses here,” said one resident who did not want to be named.

"We grew up here. There is high crime and murder in Cradock. There are no jobs there. We have seasonal jobs here."

This view was echoed by a group of six young men, cramped in one of the shacks.

"Our forefathers lived as a group and were proud about it," said one.

"There is no employment in Cradock and the people are cruel there. We want to preserve our culture and tradition. Let those who want to go leave."

Inxuba Yethemba municipal manager Mzwandile Tantsi said previous efforts to move them had failed. The municipality did not own the land the residents were on, and therefore could not develop it.

Tantsi said other government departments and community organisations had been trying to help. They were offered houses elsewhere, but refused because they wanted to be near the farms. Evicting them was currently not an option, he said.

The municipality would continue trying to persuade them to be relocated in a dignified manner.

Read more on:    east london  |  culture

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