Hoplessness hangs over Donker Hoek

2016-11-23 06:01
Trapped in poverty, Hanna Thole (80) cooks a meal for her eight grandchildren. Photos: Mlungisi Louw

Trapped in poverty, Hanna Thole (80) cooks a meal for her eight grandchildren. Photos: Mlungisi Louw

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Heaps of rubbish and scruffy gaunt youngsters quietly betray the overwhelming hopelessness that hovers over the dusty streets of the Donker Hoek informal settlement in Jacobsdal.

Tucked away in the tiny town 154 km west of Bloemfontein, it consists of about 250 households – the occupants of which are mostly from farming communities surrounding the small town.

Dilapidated shanties, built from crude boards and zinc sheets, line the sun-scorched streets where young children play during school hours. With only one primary school and one high school located in the Ratanang Township, Donker Hoek parents say the limited space makes enrolling their children in schools problematic.

While residents battle with access to basic services, school attendance in the area continues to decline due to long walking distances, overcrowded classrooms and a lack of funds.

With no water infrastructure and sanitation, no electricity and no waste-removal services, residents say that the government won votes with empty promises.

In the scorching heat, Hanna Thole (80), a pensioner, hunches over a black cast-iron pot steaming over hot coals behind her two-room shack.

The wrinkles on Thule’s furrowed face deepen with concern when she stirs the scraps of pasta meant to feed the eight grandchildren peeping through the broken doors of her shanty dwelling.

“There is never enough food,” she sighs.

Over a meter away from the steaming pots, a slanted pit toilet made from corrugated zinc sheets threatens to collapse from years of use.

Trapped in abject poverty like Thole, Selina Nicholas (58) says she has been living in the informal settlement for more than eight years. Using a wheelbarrow, Nicholas endures the heat to fetch water in 20 litre containers at a borehole 2 km from her shanty dwelling.

Unlike Thole, who cares for eight grandchildren, Nicholas only fends for two in her tidy shack divided in two with crisp white curtains.

Nicholas says the three Jojo containers placed in the vicinity hardly ever have water. When they do, it is never enough for everyone.

According to residents, the Letsemeng Local Municipality fills the Jojo’s with water once a week.

Poverty and a lack of jobs coupled with alcohol abuse cripple this Afrikaans-speaking community. It was rated as being the drinking capital of the Free State with the second highest rate of alcohol consumption in the country in 2014.

The dusty streets of Jacobsdal are littered with people drinking “sour wine” by midday. A high pregnancy rate, domestic violence and HIV/Aids have become the norm.

The farming community has also criticised farmers for paying low wages and treating farm workers badly.

On Tuesday (15/11), officials of the Free State branch of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) visited the community to intensify human rights awareness campaigns in rural and far-flung areas of the province.

Neo Tsikwane, SAHRC advocacy and research officer, says the SAHRC has established that there has been an upsurge in farm evictions.

“Their human rights have been violated. While facing many challenges, residents have no basic services,” she says.

The SAHRC was accompanied by the Department of Home Affairs to assist residents with essentials like applications for identity documents and birth certificates.

Tlhakudi Moloi, acting office manager of Home Affairs in Koffiefontein, says a large number of residents located in Donker Hoek have no identity documents and consequently fail to acquire birth certificates for their children. This is attributed to farm workers who migrated to the informal settlement after living on farms for decades without acquiring proper identity documentation.

However, Moloi says residents are encouraged to apply for late registration of birth certificates so that they can acquire identity documents.

Although Home Affairs does not have permanent offices in Jacobsdal, a mobile office renders services in the town every Tuesday and Thursday.

Buang Jones, provincial manager of the Free State SAHRC, says the commission will dispatch its legal team to verify allegations that the Letsemeng Municipality has violated the rights of residents by failing to provide them with access to basic services following outreach clinics.

“The commission will consider its options to either institute a high court application to compel the municipality to fulfil its constitutional obligations to provide residents with basic services or conduct an investigation that will determine if any rights have been violated,” says Jones.

Andrew Visagie, Letsemeng municipality spokesperson, says the authority has urged Donker Hoek residents to register their names on the waiting list for sites at the Jacobsdal office. This is for 538 residential sites which are currently at the approval phase.

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