Khayelitsha shack dwellers building their own toilets and roads

2018-09-15 22:31
Msimelelo Vuba pulls a charred mattress from the remains of a burnt shack. (Vincent Lali, GroundUp)

Msimelelo Vuba pulls a charred mattress from the remains of a burnt shack. (Vincent Lali, GroundUp)

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Shack dwellers from the Zwelitsha informal settlement in Khayelitsha are doing their best to make their area liveable, digging pit toilets and making space for roads. But they say they need water to battle fires which break out in their shacks.

On Monday, residents tried, but failed, to extinguish a fire that burned down a shack at about 05:00, said 31-year-old Msimelelo Vuba.

Vuba said he had been waiting for transport to work in Athlone when he saw flames engulfing his neighbour’s shack.

"I hurried to the shack and found residents battling the fire. The residents dug up sand and scooped it with spades, throwing it into the burning shack."

The sand prevented the fire from spreading. But, if water had been available, residents would have been able to save the shack and the belongings inside, said Vuba.

Nosiphenathi Dolophi, 22, said getting water had been a struggle since she moved in about three months ago. "I walk up the hill to collect water from my in-laws' place nearby. The daily walks wear my shoes out and I go to bed tired every day," she said.

She draws electricity from a serviced site nearby at R200 a month for her TV and lights. She uses a gas stove to cook and boils water for washing.

Hole in the yard

The shack dwellers have been trying to make the settlement liveable ever since they occupied the site around March this year.

Linda Gcwabe, 33, said she had moved onto the land in March with her seven-year-old son. She said she had dug a hole in her yard to deposit urine, old food and grey water.

"After my kid has bathed for school in the morning, I dump the grey water into the hole," she said. "At night, we both pee in a small bucket and I dump the urine in the hole in the morning."

When the hole is full, said Gcwabe, she pours in water mixed with disinfectant to reduce the smell, covers it with sand and then digs a new hole.

"I have encircled the yard with a wooden plank enclosure to protect my belongings from thieves and to make residents see that this part of Zwelitsha belongs to me.

"I don’t like to hear the footsteps of people who walk past my door while I’m lying in bed at night. The footsteps make me scared and uncomfortable," said Gcwabe. She added that she plans to extend her shack in the future.

Lindiwe Fenama, 39, lives with her husband and six-year-old son. She moved in three months ago to escape the monthly rent of R500 she was paying for a one-room shack in a nearby serviced area.

"I’m glad that I have my own place," she says.

'We don’t want dirt around our shacks'

Fenama said her husband, a builder, built her shack with plyboard.

"Now I’m buying second hand corrugated iron cheap from roadside hardware shops to replace the plyboards. They become dripping wet when it rains," she said. "I will buy second hand materials with the money I used to reserve for rent."

She has dug a trench between her shack and her neighbour’s to dump old food, urine, grey water and her baby’s excrement. "If you dump rubbish among the shacks, it will cause a bad smell and invite flies. We don’t want dirt around our shacks," said Fenama.

When GroundUp visited, she was using a rake to remove dead leaves and rubbish in front of her shack. She said shack dwellers had resolved at a community meeting to remove some shacks to make way for a road into the settlement.

"The road will help paramedics and firefighters to drive into Zwelitsha, help sick people and put out fires," said Fenama. She and other residents get water from the taps at the toilets in a nearby serviced site. She said the shack dwellers wanted the City of Cape Town to give them toilets and communal water taps.

Msimelelo Vuba pulls a charred mattress from the remains of a burnt shack. Photo: Vincent Lali

Makereke Nyanyatsi, 45, lived in a rented shack in Zwelitsha before she moved to the new settlement in June. Her husband works as a handyman in the township, fixing shacks and installing water taps and toilet pipes.

She gets water from a friend in a serviced site, who also allows her to use the toilet there.

"When she is not around, I go to the bushes."

'I relieve myself in a bucket at night'

Nyanyatsi said she planned to put a pit toilet near her shack. "Residents get tired when you ask them to allow you to use their toilets every day," she said.

Nyanyatsi, who does part-time domestic work in the township and works on a grape farm in Stellenbosch in the season, said she would buy building materials to make her shack warmer when the grape season comes.

Dolophi said she was scared to go to the bushes at night to relieve herself because a shack dweller had been found dead there. "I relieve myself in a bucket at night. I intend to build a pit toilet nearby now," she said.

Councillor Xanthea Limberg, City of Cape Town Mayoral Committee Member for Informal Settlements, said the shack dwellers were illegally on the land. "The provision of services on this land was not planned and is therefore not included in the City’s current budget or resource allocation," she said.

Limberg said several new communities were demanding services. "But currently the City is unable to cater for these unplanned settlements, as existing recognised informal settlements are prioritised on the basis of available resources, which are not limitless."

"This settlement will therefore be scheduled for future individual assessment in line with the City’s available resources."

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