Why does Azania in Tsolo not protest?

2017-05-14 06:40
FILE: Children play at Pomona Estate informal settlement in Kempton Park. (Julia Chaskalson, GroundUp)

FILE: Children play at Pomona Estate informal settlement in Kempton Park. (Julia Chaskalson, GroundUp)

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Residents of Azania informal settlement in Tsolo, Eastern Cape, live in squalor with no electricity, water or proper toilets. But there have not been any protests here.

Those who live in Azania, just outside central Tsolo, northern Mthatha, were moved from where they had built their own homes in Chris Hani Township. But the municipality demolished the houses in 2014, allegedly because residents had illegally settled on municipal land that was earmarked for a housing development.

So, they built shacks in an open field near Azania. Most residents are unemployed and mainly survive on social grants.

Tsolo lies in Ward 6 of the Mhlontlo Local Municipality, and Azania is 2km from the local municipal offices, where residents could protest if they wanted to.

Xoliswa Sompetha (50), an unemployed single mother of three, lives with her children and a grandchild in a shack in Azania. She says ignorance could be the main reason rural people do not start protests of their own.

“Tsolo is a rural town, and most people here are scared of the authorities and the police. They think that they are being done a favour by government when they are given services, when it is actually their right,” she said.

“I think we should have had a massive protest in 2014 when they demolished our homes. You see people protesting in other parts of the country and getting what they want, but our people are just too afraid of the police, I guess.”

Sompetha uses sail cover material to protect her shack from the cold and rain. She survives by doing odd jobs and thanks to a child support grant for her grandchild.

Mzimasi Mvu (31), a builder at a construction company in Tsolo, stays with his wife and three children in a shack in Azania.

“We use the bush to relieve ourselves because there are no toilets here. There is no water or electricity. I have been living here for two years and it does not look like our situation is going to change,” he says.

“We need houses. I was on the housing waiting list in 2014, but, when I checked again in 2015, my name was no longer there,” he says.

“The problem is corruption and the manipulation of these lists to favour certain people, who are connected politically.”

When asked why the residents of Azania keep quiet about their plight, Mvu said: “The problem is that, when people protest, they are arrested and they are scared.

“I think people have also lost hope in government and do not see any value in protesting because there is no prospect of their problems being resolved.”

Nozolile Qhesha (57), who lives with five children and six grandchildren, rents an RDP house for R300 a month in Azania. Her pervious home was demolished.

As a member of a community committee established to fight for houses, she says they don’t protest because residents belong to different political parties, and have different views on the issues in the area.

“For instance, I am a member of Cope and, if you suggest that people must protest, they look at you like someone who is trying to embarrass their government because most people belong to the ANC. It’s not because people do not see a reason to protest, it is just that the community is not united, despite having challenges that unite them,” she said.

In Finetown

In Finetown, residents witness how well the sewerage system works in neighbouring Ennerdale, and they look longingly at the RDP houses in the distance.

Finetown is crammed with shacks, sewage occasionally runs in the streets and goats eat rubbish strewn in the road.

There are a few RDP homes, most of which are flanked by two to three shacks. The children play in the litter on the roadside.

Although 86.5% of residents have access to a flush toilet, according to census data collated by Wazimap, residents like Alfred Matimba (68) said the flush toilets in the area do not work. And so residents have to either buy, or dig, their own.

“We have no water crisis here,” Matimba said. “We just have a huge problem of damaged sewerage pipes.”

Matimba showed City Press the toilet on the property he owns which is next to Alemayehu’s tuck shop.

The outside toilet, which about 10 people share, has a curtain to protect the modesty of its users.

Inside, the toilet is covered with a dirty mat and has a  strong stench.

“The smell of sewage becomes dreadful in summer and people literally walk on dirty water,” Matimba said.

“There’s little development in other areas, but in Finetown there is no development at all.”

Alemayehu’s tuck shop, owned by Lemma Alemayehu (27), was looted this week.

The Ethiopian national said it would be better for him to leave the country.

During this week’s protests, Alemayehu’s shop was looted by residents who broke in on Tuesday night, and he lost R35 000 in stock and cash.

The looters also beat him up and stole his clothes.

“It’s not right,” he said. “We’re not [the ones who are] going to give them housing.”

Alemayehu has lived in South Africa for about eight years and he regularly sent the money he kept in the store to his family in Ethiopia.

“I don’t have nothing,” Alemayehu said.

“The government doesn’t have a problem. It’s the people,” Alemayehu said.

“I help a lot of other people in the area. The same people you help are the same who steal.”

In Laudium

The residents of Itireleng have seen informal settlements evolve into townships in nearby Atteridgeville and Olievenhoutbosch, while they remain crammed in shacks with no basic services.

Over the years they have become used to the stench of garbage scattered all over their neighbourhood, and the murky rivulets of bath and washing water thrown in their streets.

Having rats run over their bodies is something they are not startled by any more.

“We share our space with these rats after all,” they say.

This is why they took to the streets this week, demanding to know why they were still living in shacks, using pit toilets and sharing communal taps that ran dry most of the time.

Situated on the western edge of Laudium, southwest of Pretoria, residents said Itireleng has existed since the 1990s.

Litha Mdudi (32), an unemployed mother of four, lives in a shack less than 30m from an illegal rubbish dump.

“People dump garbage here and we can’t do anything about it. My children are always sick because of all this. And because my partner and I share this one-roomed shack with four children, there’s nowhere else for them to play,” she said.

“Our children often play with used condoms from this garbage thinking they are balloons, and they become ill every now and then. This is not what we voted for.

“We voted for freedom and we will continue to protest until we know how it feels to be free. Our community is far from being free when people are put on housing waiting lists for more than a decade.”

Unlike Mdudi, who applied for an RDP house last year, her neighbour Florence Dawuse (42) has been on the waiting list since 2000.

She agrees with Mdudi that the only time government officials think of them is at election time.

“Our government is not living up to its promises. Our leaders have failed us,” she said. “They only engage with us during the elections and vanish thereafter, hence we’re still stuck in this inhabitable living condition where we live almost like animals.”

Less than 100m away are the high-walled mansions of Laudium Extension 3. A street forms a thin line between the poverty-stricken area and relative affluence.

“It is very sad that just across the road, people are living the normal life and here we are living in this. We are bitten by rats every night and our children have got used to them,” Mdudi said.

“My children sleep on the floor next to the door where the rats flock in and out at night.”

The two women said they felt punished by government in that they are left to depend on illegal connections for electricity and walk long distances for water.

“Why are we made to suffer? Why can’t they share resources among all of us?” Dawuse asked. “Clearly, we’re all here because of poverty and we’re given hope when politicians ask us to vote for them so that they can provide services, and now we have to run after them. We really don’t want to go on protest but if someone can come spend a night in this shack, especially in winter, they will understand our misery.”

In Eldos

Eldorado Park residents see new RDP houses built next door in Soweto, while they live cramped in council flats. Too poor to afford bonds, but too rich to be given RDP houses, many say they are being discriminated against because they are coloured. According to census data from Wazimap, 59% of Eldorado Park residents are coloured.

Pastor Gaynolina Mattera, sister of celebrated South African poet Don Mattera, who lives in the neighbourhood, said: “The coloured people are a forgotten race. We were too black to be white, now we are too white to be black.”

In a dilapidated block of council flats off Milnerton Street, Chariffa Phyllis worries about space for her daughter to play. In the one-bedroom flat she shares with her husband, daughter and two sons, a bed takes up most of one room. In the dining room, a couch and glass table leave little room for playing.

There’s a field next door but litter is spread across it and the grass grows high. There is a park behind the building, but Phyllis doesn’t consider it a park. There are roundabouts, but the paint is chipping off.

“If you go to Soweto, they have parks,” she said.

Residents like Phyllis are dissatisfied with the lack of housing in the area, where up to 23 people have been known to live in a two-bedroom council flat.

On Monday and Tuesday protests broke out in Eldorado Park over a lack of housing and service delivery. Police fired rubber bullets and stores were looted. On Wednesday, residents were on edge and worried about more violence.

“I’m against the vandalism of shops, but we really need service delivery. There’s more service delivery in other areas,” Phyllis said.

Her neighbour Lemmuel Carpede (59) agreed: “This is also Soweto. But there’s more development on that side.”

Carpede shares his one-bedroom apartment with his two children, his sister, and his sister’s son. On Wednesday afternoon, Carpede sat in his car with swollen feet. He had slept in his car, he said, because he slept badly the night before. He shares his bed with his children.

“It’s all the coloured areas that are standing up,” he said.

On the third floor, Mercia Matthews (55) sits on the couch holding her granddaughter Brooklyn, who suffers from cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus. They share the one-bedroom apartment with her son and three other grandchildren.

“I need a house because here, people come and smoke on the stairs. The smoke comes in here. These children don’t have freedom,” Matthews said.

Neighbour Mittah Korope (39) said she applied for an RDP house in 2000, and has a receipt from the Gauteng housing department dated June 17 2003.

She lives in the dining room of her brother’s flat with her five children. She shares a bed with two of them and the others sleep on the floor.

Her two older sons joined this week’s protests.

“It is very difficult. Sometimes we can’t even sleep right. When one is sick, like last month, all of us were sick,” she said.

“I would just like to get a house.”

Read more on:    east london  |  service delivery

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