‘We have nothing, so why should we be counted?’

2011-11-12 17:30

The people of Silvertown refused to be counted because they have nothing.

A stench of stagnant water and urine welcomes you to the informal settlement outside Port Elizabeth, where an ­estimated 8 000 people, crammed into about 800 shacks, remain forgotten.

As a whole, the community boycotted the national census. It took a visit from senior Stats SA officials this week, including statistician-general Pali Lehohla, to convince them to ­participate.

They wanted houses and electricity before they would be counted. Since 1987, when the township was declared, there has been little to no development.

“When we were moved from Red Location, they (the pre-1994 government) told us these structures were temporary, and we would get houses. But we’re still here and even the new government does not seem willing to help,” says Elsie Meyi, one of the residents.

Like most in the area, Meyi is poor, ­unemployed and relies on various ­government grants and a pension.

With frustrations reaching boiling point, the community decided to boycott the census. Resident Landiswa Senti (24) said: “There is nothing here and it seems government doesn’t know about us. They only come here when it’s ­elections and this ensus. After that it’s quiet again.”

The unemployed mother lives in a shack with her three siblings, none of whom has a permanent job. Onakho (her two-year- old), has an open wound on her forehead, the result of a recent rat bite.

Zandisile Nkosiane, Stats SA’s provincial executive manager for the province, said 60 enumerators were immediately placed in the area after Lehohla convinced them to be counted.

“We had to educate them that it is in their interests. There was another area where people refused, but we managed to turn that around too.

Nkosiane said: “The information we generate benefits various government departments so they can address ­society’s needs.”

But some Silvertown residents weren’t happy with the eventual decision to be counted. One of them is Mam’ uElsie, a vocal 67-year-old who was also involved in the community’s last standoff when they refused to vote in May. She says the leaders told residents their refusal would cost the ANC and jeopardise its ability to keep control of the metro.

“Their only concern is this organisation. What has it done for us? We also protested against the apartheid government. We used to get shot at. Our children died and we buried them and you say it was for this? This is not freedom.”

Her daughter, Unathi Mbava, lives just a street away with her husband and two- year-old son. “What pains me most is that she and her siblings grew up here, and the situation is still the same for my grandchildren,” Mam’ uElsie said.

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