Desperate for housing and land

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Freddy Mohale has been busy building shacks for customers in an informal settlement in Freedom Park near Naturena, south of Johannesburg.  Photo: Tebogo Letsie
Freddy Mohale has been busy building shacks for customers in an informal settlement in Freedom Park near Naturena, south of Johannesburg. Photo: Tebogo Letsie


The sounds of rattling metal and a hammer hitting nails echoed as we entered the congested Freedom Park informal settlement along the R553 Golden Highway, south of Johannesburg. When City Press visited this week, it had been another busy day for Freddy Mohale. He was erecting his second shack of the day for a client who had recently bought a small plot of land in the rocky area.

“I have been up since 6am, busy trying to provide shelter for those in desperate need,” said the 53-year-old, who was sweating profusely. “I build these shacks, it’s my work.”

In his work trousers and jacket, topped with a black cap, Mohale seemed undeterred.

In stark contrast to the corrugated iron shack he was building, under construction a few metres away was a face-brick building that, on completion, would consist of one- and two-bedroom units.

A fence separates the two disparate construction sites.

READ: Food crisis for expectant moms

Having moved to the area “about a month ago”, Mohale, who is a welder by trade, said he had already been commissioned to build five more shacks when we met him.

“People are desperate for housing and they cannot afford rent because they are unemployed. Even this area is running out of space,” he said. “The area is too congested now, but what can we do as we need to survive?”

The demand was noticeable as the shiny homes stood shoulder to shoulder around him. A relative, who has lived in Freedom Park for two years, introduced Mohale to the area.

“It’s too full here. We are running out of space. People are suffering and struggling ... they need some form of shelter. And if there is land available, we will use it. We can no longer afford to pay landlords in our townships. Renting has become tougher because of the Covid-19 pandemic,” explained Mohale.

Having been a frequent visitor to Freedom Park, Mohale knew the neighbourhood and its residents well. He built shacks in the area even before moving there.

“I have seen the number of shacks grow over the years,” he said, stopping to wipe sweat from his forehead. “I used to rent a back room in Soweto, but over time I struggled to come up with the rent money. I finally decided to move here as a result.”

A despondent Mohale explained that he was retrenched last year and expressed his concern about “how those who can afford [homes] view us”.

“No one wakes up one day wishing to be jobless and without shelter. People might get angry that we have built these shacks here, but it is not by choice. It’s a means to survive. We are trying as best as we can and building this shack right now is for the survival of both myself and the person who needs the shelter.

“Using the money I had saved up, I bought a small plot of land here and built myself a shack.”

Looking over at the face-brick block of flats under construction, he said: “These people actually don’t want us here. They want us gone, but we have nowhere else to go.”

Meanwhile, about 8km away at the Nana’s Farm informal settlement – between Eldorado Park and Lenasia along the N12 highway – Lerato Madiba and two men sat outside her one-room shack. They were discussing how many corrugated iron sheets she needed for her new toilet.

A few metres away, a young man was hard at work. The sound of a pickaxe and spade filled the air as he dug a hole where the toilet would be built.

The 47-year-old told City Press she moved to the area last September but could not afford to build the toilet until now.

“I have been unemployed and the cost for digging alone is R350, excluding the R850 I have to pay someone to build the toilet,” Madiba said.

Her family has been using the neighbour’s toilet.

In Mapetla in Soweto, where she lived with her mother and six family members, the conditions became unbearable because of the overcrowded four-bedroom home. Renting was not an option as she was unemployed.

“I heard about this place and I saw the number of shacks increase at an alarming rate every time I went past in a taxi. I then spoke to some community members and I got a stand and built my small shack.”

Madiba said she paid R1 500 for the plot “at the office up the road”. Attempts by City Press to track down the officials who received the payments were unsuccessful.

Last year, the Johannesburg Metro Council brought an urgent court application to have more than 300 shacks at Nana’s Farm removed.


The need to be closer to the economic hubs, where job opportunities are, has seen a large number of people move from various parts of the country in pursuit of a better life for their families

Vusi Baleni, a civil engineer and project manager at the Bigen Group, an infrastructure development company, told City Press that, according to available data, informal settlements have grown exponentially – from 300 in 1994 to more than 2 750 in 2011.

“According to the Informal Settlement Atlas [2009/10] compiled by the national department of human settlements, there were 625 informal settlements in Gauteng alone,” Baleni said.

Asked why there was such a huge increase, Baleni said this was mostly caused by urbanisation.

“The need to be closer to the economic hubs, where job opportunities are, has seen a large number of people move from various parts of the country in pursuit of a better life for their families,” he said.

“They are then affected by the shortage of affordable housing, which leads to people settling informally.”

But he cautioned that the country’s “ageing bulk infrastructure, in particular water, roads, sanitation and electricity, have been overburdened by these unplanned settlements, making it difficult for municipalities to plan and maintain infrastructure”.


Community members of the Mountain City informal settlement, located in Walkerville south of Johannesburg, were gathered at one of the two water tanks in G Block when the City Press team arrived.

As residents took turns to fill their bucket, Nomakhosi Radebe lamented: “The water situation in the area is dire.”

Radebe patiently waited her turn with her empty 10-litre and 20-litre buckets. She moved to the area from Thokoza, a township in Ekurhuleni, in December.

The 40-year-old told City Press: “We have not had water for two days and that is why it is busy here today.”

This was evident by the number of residents – some pushing wheelbarrows containing up to five buckets – slowly making their way to the crowded water tank.

Radebe said she was forced to move to the area after both she and her husband lost their jobs and could no longer afford to pay their landlord rent of R500 a month.

“We bought a one-room shack here that had already been erected for R2 700. It is better because we do not have to worry about paying rent every month,” she said.

“While people might say we are not meant to be living on this land and therefore cannot be complaining about a lack of water provision, at the end of it, we are human beings trying to survive. Water is a basic need. And we need it.”

READ: Densification is not the enemy in a post-Covid-19 urban future

With only two water tanks for her block, Radebe said: “Government needs to provide us with our most basic needs, water being one of them. It hurts that we are being treated this way, yet we are expected to vote when elections come around.”

Development here is not what we hoped it would be by now. The area is obviously occupied by unemployed and disadvantaged people, and that makes things worse

Jeffrey Maluleka, the chairperson of the G Block development team at the Mountain City informal settlement, explained that the settlement was divided into seven blocks – A to G.

Speaking to City Press at his tuck shop, Maluleka said: “Our mandate as the development team is to ensure that services such as water and proper sanitation are available in the area. We are responsible for the development of the area and also ensuring that it is kept clean.”

Maluleka moved to the area in October 2019.

“Development here is not what we hoped it would be by now. The area is obviously occupied by unemployed and disadvantaged people, and that makes things worse,” the 44-year-old admitted.

According to Maluleka, his block currently has more than 2 000 shacks. He vowed that they would not leave the area, despite attempts by the city to remove them.


Castro Ngobese, Gauteng department of human settlements spokesperson, confirmed that there was a “growing culture of land grabs on vacant state and privately owned land”.

“The prevalence of the illegal occupation of land and erection of structures has emerged predominantly in the economic centres of the province, including the cities of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni.”

According to Ngobese, there was a substantial backlog in housing – estimated to be between 2.3 million and 3.7 million units.

He urged those seeking housing to approach the department or their local municipality to register, so they could receive housing support.

“The illegal occupation of public and privately owned land is a criminal act. Where illegal structures are erected, the matter shall be referred to the police,” he said.

Ngobese added that the housing backlog had worsened since 1994 because of “unscrupulous people who are illegally selling parcels of land and political influence”.


Palesa Dlamini 


+27 11 713 9001
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24


Read the digital editions of City Press here.
Read now
Voting Booth
According to a letter Health Minister Joe Phaahla sent to MECs, the country is ready to get rid of masks in public as a health protocol. Is it time to go maskless?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
About time
62% - 153 votes
38% - 95 votes