After losing her job as a domestic worker in an upmarket East London suburb due to her advancing years, Nongazi George moved to Nompumelelo in the hope that she would one day get an RDP house.
George, now 76 years old, does not know in which year she moved to one of Nompumelelo’s informal settlements.
Her dream of owning a house where she would live out her old age first started many years ago when she learnt that RDP houses were being built in the township.
And as many others have done, she too moved to the outskirts of the township with high hopes.
However, George, who is asthmatic and frequently uses an asthma inhaler, has been faced with one difficulty after another – and still has no house. And she is struggling to survive.
She lives in an area called Durban – a settlement built among the bushes overlooking East London’s leafier suburbs – a stark picture of two worlds, if ever there was one. George’s one-roomed shack is tiny, with netting as makeshift insulation, and she keeps it neat as a pin.
But it is one of many that are chronically deprived of services.
She said she paid someone R200 a few years ago to have electricity connected, not knowing this was illegal.
“But it still helps me. Outside it is dark at night and I can’t even go to the toilet. We live in terrible conditions here,” she said.
The illegal connections in the area led to five shacks burning down late last month. Sadly this is not uncommon.
The traumatised victims then pick through the charred remains of what were once their homes, trying to salvage what might be left of the building material and construct patchy shacks elsewhere. There is no alternative but to move on with their lives.
As if the costs of relying on izinyoka are not high enough, there is also the danger of real life snakes lurking in this bush environment. For Lindile Mandla, who survives by doing odd jobs, he is always afraid that his five children may get bitten.
Ablution facilities are another huge problem.
“We have four toilets on this side for more than 100 households,” Thembisa Magatyana, 27, said.
The toilets are also a fair distance away. Some of the shackdwellers have to walk 150 to 300m to access the communal toilets and taps.
And, Magatyana said, when one finally does arrive at the toilets, there is usually a long queue of people waiting to use the facilities.
The Daily Dispatch was taken on a tour of the four toilets – one had no toilet seat and two had no doors.
An old plastic table is used as a makeshift door for people needing to use the toilet.
However, the “door” only closes halfway and people who walk past can see the head and shoulders of anyone using the toilet, especially during daylight.
That is not the end of these residents’ unhappy plight. There are very obvious consequences to so many people using so few toilets.
“We have constant blockages of sewerage drains and the human waste will then flow into people’s shacks,” Magatyana said.
She moved from Ntabankulu in the former Transkei to East London in the hope of a better life.
While she managed to find work as a cleaner at a private security company, she says life is hard for people living in the area.
Some of the shacks are built on sloping land, which leaves the residents vulnerable to flooding when it rains.
“The rain comes in through the door and out the back of the shack when it rains.”
People living in such exposed conditions are also very susceptible to being victims of crime.
They complain that they are frequently the targets of criminals, especially after the sun sets in the unlit area.
So vulnerable are they that those who terrorise them are even known to the community.
One rehabilitated robber is now trying his best to rid this community of the scourge of crime.
Solomon Metyane, who spent 28 years in a Gauteng jail, is trying to get the young people off the street and focusing their energies on positive living.
“I teach them acting and we have productions that we are looking forward to having a platform to showcase,” Metyane said.
But even this laudable effort is not immune to callous thieves.
“We get sponsors for production equipment and outfits but we end up not taking them because if we keep them here they will be stolen.
“We need a place to practise and store our stuff,” he said.
Metyane has a special way of greeting his “students” and as he walks through the streets, children emerge out of nowhere and begin to follow him, the excitement clearly visible on their faces.
This is a picture of hope still alive among people living in dire circumstances.
One thing is for sure, the residents of this area would love to be able to move to a safer, healthier place.
These are not people who are afraid of work. This is after all why they left their villages and came in search of jobs to provide better lives for themselves and their dependants.
Buffalo City Metro’s Bathandwa Diamond said the plight of people living in informal settlements was a priority.
She said projects were underway to ensure people lived in habitable conditions.
However, she said, “the fact that the shacks are built on private land and under Eskom lines makes it virtually impossible to invest here as these don’t meet the requirements. This is why we discourage people from invading and occupying spaces of land – it poses serious challenges for service delivery”.
Diamond said BCM was looking for suitable land to develop phase two of the Nompumelelo housing project.
Nompumelelo, which is part of ward 15, had budgeted for projects including the construction of phase two of the community hall and the replacement of water pipes and meters.
Diamond said the metro was looking at the upgrading of the sports field in the area and this would be considered in the 2019/20 financial year.
“The metro also has a multi-year programme to eradicate izinyoka in informal dwellings,” Diamond added. “However, some areas need to meet the criteria for shacks to be electrified.”
Diamond said the city had public participation processes to engage with communities on challenges.
l See the video footage shot by Bhongo Jacob online at https://youtu.be/gPi-nrZLM8Y or www.dispatchlive.co.za