Meet Sandton's squatting jobless

2016-07-20 09:02
(Ahmed Areff, News24)

(Ahmed Areff, News24)

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Johannesburg - A little way down the road from the richest square mile in Africa, where millions are made and traded, smoke, rubbish and makeshift tents crowd a park in the heart of Sandton's Parkmore suburb.

The people who live on this patch of land in George Lea Park, which is next to the Sandton Sports Club, are mostly from Lesotho and have come to South Africa to look for jobs and a better life.

Those who are not traversing the streets of Sandton, looking for bottles and cans to recycle, apparently work in construction, helping to build the glass and steel odes to business that populate Sandton's skyline. Others simply huddle around small fires, surrounded by piles of trash.

Most are here illegally and others have occupied this land for about five years. In that time a nearby river has become polluted with human waste and rubbish while the settlement appears to mushroom.

Those that News24 talked to did not want to be named because they did not have work permits.

'Too much cold'

A 24-year-old who came to the country earlier this year to look for a job, told News24 that he now needed to make his way back home after the death of his mother. However, that is unlikely as his efforts to earn enough cash for the trip have proved fruitless.

"I am from Lesotho. If you are coming from Lesotho and you don't have a work permit, it is a problem. A big problem. I am here to look for work. Any job. [But it is hard] because I don't have a diploma," he said.

"I am staying here. It is cold now."

When asked what he did to keep warm on winter nights, he pointed to a small fire where a pot of water was bubbling. "It is this fire," he said.

Another man around the same age on the other side of the park echoed the same sentiments.

"It is not easy here. It is cold. Too much cold."

He recycles plastic bottles and cans and makes about R200 a week.

(Ahmed Areff, News24)

Not enough money

"It is only for food. Not for clothes - nothing else. Only for food."

When asked what he would do if he was evicted off the land, he lamented, "I am going to [go] crazy. I don't know where I am going to go."

An elderly lady, who sat with a Basotho hat covering her face said she had lived in the park for the last five years. 

"It is not comfortable, it is just because [we don't have a place] to use," she said.

"We are looking for jobs, but there is no job. Then we decided to take these bottles and sell it. It is not enough [money], but half a loaf is better than no bread.

"We want the work permit. We would like to stay here, but if we could get a place, we can go to another place."

(Ahmed Areff, News24)

Rehabilitating land

Kate Wardle, the deputy chairperson of the Parkmore Community Association, told News24 the Sandton Sports Club had been on the land for nearly 40 years. The land belongs to the City of Johannesburg.

"Half of the erf is on a lease with the Sandton Sports Club, and the other half is the bit we are standing on right now which is dirty and has a lot of people living here. This section is actually designated as wetlands, and for that reason it can't be built on. That is why it sat in limbo for a number of years now," she said.

"The priority for us at the moment is to find a... solution as to how to rehabilitate this land so that more people can use it, we can create jobs and a safe place for the community to enjoy."

She said a small number of people have been living on the land for a long time, however in the last two years the population increased dramatically. 

"People have been allowed to come here, they are not being chased out. The police and the JMPD have done a number of raids on this land. We have participated in them, but it hasn't solved the problem," she said.

"So they come in, arrest the people who are here illegally and that's it. And then the people come back. What we really need is a long term sustainable solution."

'By-laws are by-laws'

She said the association has been working with the City of Johannesburg and the Sandton Sports Club. The club has since been granted an adoption order on the piece of land in question. A new fence would also be erected around the park.

"People will start to see change here. We are sitting down with the city next week. A multi-departmental task force has been assembled so that we can plan how are we going to clean this land and rehabilitate it," Wardle said.

"People often ask me, but what about the people living here, and you know, the by-laws are the by-laws, you can't move into a park and live there. It is not right for the park, it is not right for the people. It is not a solution.

"These people that live here will all be offered accommodation in shelters, as they have been consistently in the past - typically they don't want to live in the shelters. Many live and work in Sandton, working in the construction industry or they make money from recycling."

She said that as she understood it from talking with city officials, the priority for accommodation is always given to South African residents, however that doesn't exclude those from Lesotho from applying for shelter.

She said one of the biggest problems is that the people are occupying the land without rent, so "everything they make, they can spend".

(Ahmed Areff, News24)

Sanitation, crime

"That is a challenge because they can walk to work in the construction industry, suddenly [with shelter] you have got the added factors of transport and accommodation thrown into the mix. So there is no easy answer for this."

The issue of sanitation is a problem as well.

"I've been told before that anywhere is a toilet in George Lea Park by one of the guys living here. They don't use the water in the river anymore, it is not safe," Wardle said.

"I know of one area which is across the river, up against the preschool wall, it is a precast wall and that is [one of the] designated toilets. That is a problem. You can't have small children in the community on one side of the wall and human waste on the other side."

She said that while things in the park may appear to be terrible, things were changing.

"People are concerned on a number of levels. Some people are concerned about crime, and while I can't comment on whether people in this park are criminals, I can tell you that I personally have found drivers' licences here that were taken from smash and grabs at the robots," she said.

"So I do think it would have a negative impact [if the settlement expanded] and I truly believe that it is not an option to let people live like this. We can't have this land be continually polluted. It has to be cleaned up."

(Ahmed Areff, News24)

Read more on:    city of johannesburg  |  johannesburg  |  local government  |  poverty  |  housing  |  service delivery

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