Haunted by day terror ruined their lives

2011-02-19 16:51

Every morning Christina Loutering peers over the peach trees and shacks that partly obstruct her view of the new housing development across the road from the Skierlik informal settlement to check if any walls have gone up.

The sight of graders and men hard at work clearing the earth for the building of 500 two-bedroom houses has brought renewed hope here.
A walk down the shanty village’s two streets explains the simmering ­enthusiasm.

There are hardly any ­brick-and-cement structures in this ­settlement of 89 households.

Everything is patched with zinc, wooden planks, plastic sheeting andanything else that can offer protection from the rain and cold.

The only brick building is the ­imposing structure which was once a store serving the rural community on the farms between Swartruggens and Koster.
There is no school, no clinic, just one church – which is also built from zinc – no running water and no electricity.

Men and women, young and old, drown their sorrows in buckets of skala (sorghum beer) and bottles of beer in the two ­ramshackle shebeens in the area.

Now and then mongrels with protruding rib cages vent their frustration by barking at a train roaring past the unguarded railway track near the row of shacks.

The railway line runs so close to the shacks that the roar of the train’s ­engines makes conversation inside ­Molathlegi Pule’s darkened shack ­impossible.
It is a miracle that no one has been run over in the history of Skierlik.

Residents get their water supply from two giant green tanks filled daily by a ­municipal truck.

The sick rely on a mobile clinic which visits the area once a week. Cooking is done using firewood collected from neighbouring farms while the few who can afford fuel use paraffin stoves.

Many cannot afford the R90 for their children’s monthly transport to school, so the young sters are forced to walk the 6km to a primary school in ­the Mazista location.

Only a few adults hold full-time jobs at a nearby slate quarry, while others ­survive on piece jobs and government social grants.

Community activist Elsie Williams, preparing to share a dish of rice and ­mayonnaise with learners at the creche she runs with other local women, says many people in the settlement are sick with TB and “a strange disease that causes the swelling of legs”.

She has begun rallying local men and women to start a vegetable garden to help feed themselves.

Williams has organised a home-based caregiver service to help bath and feed the sick.

All this is done with no funding.

“No one can afford to pay anything here,” she says.

Ward councillor Florence Manamela says while it is good that houses are ­being built, poverty remains a big ­challenge.

Manamela says all 89 households in Skierlik will be allocated houses in the new development.

The rest of the houses will be allocated to people on a waiting list in the nearby Mazista township.

“What are they going to eat when they are in the houses? People have jobs on the construction site but in two months that will be over, then what? Our biggest challenge now is to help people access social grants,” says Manamela.

The houses are being built closer to Mazista location, which means at least the walk to school will be much shorter.

There will also be running water and pre-paid electricity. And the people cannot wait for Skierlik to disappear just as suddenly as it started some 20 years ago.

“I wish I was out of this suffering ­already. Life is really hard here,” says Loutering.

She looks forward to the day she will watch from across the other side of the road from the warmth and comfort of a proper house.

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