‘Life is tough here, broer’

2011-10-24 10:03

Johannes Jordaan (43) seems oblivious to the wind or the cold drops of rain it carries with it. He walks slowly with his hands in his pockets, deep in thought and seemingly resigned to whatever punishment the elements inflict upon his lanky figure.

Later, in the cold shack that is home to him, his partner Sarah Syster (45) and their three dogs, Jordaan explains he had been lost in thought, hatching a plan to make money to put a meal on the table for that day.

There is nothing to eat in the shack. The refrigerator has been switched off and Syster watches helplessly as Jordaan picks up the assortment of empty containers on a table.

It’s past lunchtime and they have had nothing to eat that day, just like the day before.

And with the rain and wind and the ticking clock, Jordaan is desperate to find something.

This, he says, is the way of life here in Blikkiesdorp.

At first glance, Blikkiesdorp resembles one of those mine workers’ dwellings of early Joburg.

Identical shiny zinc shacks form neat rows in the stark white sand. Above them, rows of electric cables hanging on poles swing violently in the wind.

In a narrow passage between the shacks, a group of teenagers take cover, one of them holding what looks like a bottle used to smoke drugs.

But the strong winds and the rain send many of the residents scurrying for safety.

The settlement, near Delft in Cape Town, was set up three years ago as a temporary residential area for people who were left homeless after a fire wiped out an informal settlement.

Although the City of Cape Town provides basic services such as water and sanitation, life in Blikkiesdorp remains a daily struggle.

Jordaan emerges from his bedroom carrying a blanket covered in a transparent plastic bag. He is going out to try and sell it. Maybe he can make R50. Some of the money will go towards the day’s meal and some towards pre-paid electricity.

Just the other day he bought electricity for R13, but that will not last for more than a few days. Sometimes when he’s made a little money from piece jobs, he says, he organises soup for the children in the neighbourhood.

Although he wishes to have a house of his own one day, it is not his greatest worry.

“My biggest wish is for the children here to have food, just something to eat. Yes, I want a house, but the suffering here...children should not suffer like this,” he says.

Elsewhere, Taswell Turner (24) is worried about the health of his 11-month-old son, Tyreez.

The toddler is constantly suffering from chest infections, which Turner attributes to the cold in the zinc shack.

Each time he looks across the road from Blikkiesdorp to a new housing development that’s going up, he
wishes he could move into one of the colourful brick houses. But he’s not even on a waiting list, which means his wait will be long.

“Life is tough here, broer. If you don’t have food, you can’t knock on your neighbour’s door because he also doesn’t have food. Children here don’t go to school because they don’t have food and many families go to bed without eating,” says Turner, who supports his fiancée Nadia Boss (18) and little Tyreez by doing piece jobs and buying goods to resell.

A block away, Nicholas Reynolds (50) stands looking out of the window of his shack into the quiet street. He has spent 25 years living in rented backyard rooms where his four children eventually grew up.

When he got tired of this kind of living he joined thousands of other squatters in Joe Slovo. Then, after a fire ravaged the settlement, the family of six moved into one of the houses at N2 Gateway, but soon found themselves at odds with the law.

For two years they lived in the street as the court battle between the squatters and the City of Cape Town raged.

“When I was at work I always wondered if my family would be there where I had left them when I went back. Then at night, I lay awake wondering why my children had to go through all this,” says Reynolds.

He lost his job as a forklift- driver because of being constantly absent from work, attending the court case.

Then, three years ago, together with other squatters, the family of six were moved to Blikkiesdorp.

“I have been on the housing waiting list for 21 years and now I see youngsters of 18 years old occupying new government houses and I wonder how can such things be happening.

“I never wanted to come here. Children get raped here and it’s very dangerous at night because criminals are always shooting at each other,” he says, pointing to a hole where a bullet pierced a neighbour’s shack during one of these nocturnal gun battles.

Residents say criminals and drug dealers have found fertile ground for their operations in this depressed community.

Burglars cut through the soft zinc sheets to help themselves to goods, money and food.

Just after leaving Reynolds’ shack, we come across a young man lying in the sand, shot in the leg – the victim of a drug turf war.

Later in the melee of police cars and throngs of residents, I spot Reynolds, he shrugs as if to say: “I told you so.”

At the entrance to Blikkiesdorp, Steve Jules (40) runs a stall he calls Crazy Corner. He sells everything from romance thrillers to hacksaws. He’s a lively character whose wit belies the deplorable conditions around him.

Jules says: “Whoooo, boss! When there’s a wind here you must pray to God that your roof doesn’t fly away.

“Look, this is not a stable place that one can call home. But I think it is the first true rainbow nation in South Africa. Not Zuma’s or Mandela’s, our true rainbow nation because you have everyone living here.”

Indeed, there are people of all races and nationalities here in Blikkiesdorp, many of them united in the uncertainty of not knowing where their next meal will come from.

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