Category Archives: Sunday Independent

Sunday Independent: Marikana was the uprising of the poor

Marikana was the uprising of the poor

by Simphiwe Dana, The Sunday Independent

And they mowed them down with automatic guns. Just like in the movies… except, there were no sound effects. No slow motion for emphasis. Just dust. It sounded like fireworks going off. A thunder of explosions that could excite or terrify. Fast and gritty. A memory snatched by time amid the recollection of a dream. It was a dream, so quickly was it over. I blinked and it had never happened.

Except for their colourfully draped bodies sprawled in the lingering dust. Silver and red shacks and a mournful sky witness not only to their death, but to their living. Blood dripping and nourishing the parched earth.

Pangas laid down in reverence to the occasion, glistening with the blood of betrayed forgiveness, hopes and dreams. The police brotha turned with an apologetic smile to the camera. “Look what they made me do,” the smile said. There was a boyish fear in those eyes groomed to shrug off discomfort. A fear looking for approval.

This is the scene you will meet when you find my heart. I grieve for the miner and the police brotha who continues to do the master’s bidding. I grieve for his soul. I grieve more if he takes pleasure from it. I grieve for the woman who must raise a family on her own on a meagre salary, if any. I grieve for the dream that gets dimmer with every welfare grant. I grieve for those who have become desensitised to our struggle.

The gloves are off. It has been a long time coming. Those who have tried to quell the tide have failed because they are one-dimensional, and black is the only dimension they can manipulate.

Fana Mokoena said something interesting on Twitter the other day. We now have a people called The Poor, and their struggle is not ours. Yes, they are black, but the other black. We have othered ourselves. Distanced ourselves from ourselves.

We have crossed the line. And found that we are, after all, not out of the woods of apartheid. Those in the know have known all along.

The debates on social networks are heated. For and against the workers, police, unions and Lonmin.

Are we asking the right questions? On July 18 someone going by the name of Youngster penned a letter to Madiba. It was brutal and touched a lot of people. Youngster was accusing Madiba of selling out black people. Blasphemy! Youngster asked a lot of uncomfortable questions backed by facts. Youngster was angry and calling for an apology. Out of all the noise that followed, the only answer that made sense was that Madiba and his generation had done what they could. That each generation has its struggle.

What boggles my mind is why the patronage. If it is our struggle, allow us the fight. Our generation is babysat by freedom fighters who only know how to fight in trenches, not in boardrooms. Our generation’s struggle is economic apartheid. There’s no guidebook for that in the trenches. In the trenches we know we must fight and destabilise the system. We are led by people who only know to destroy. Not to build. The era for that is over and we are grateful for their contribution. They earned us a milestone. This next part of the struggle needs a different consciousness.

We need planners to chart an economy that works for all. We need Bikos from all sectors of industry to chart the way to a better life for all. It is becoming glaringly obvious that the ordinary black person has been shortchanged. Yes, black. The struggle has been black for centuries and the past 18 years have just been a Band Aid on a festering wound. That approximately 16 million people are on welfare should set off alarm bells. That is almost a third of our society.

Down with cadre deployment. The ANC, as the ruling party, needs to head-hunt thought leaders from different sectors of industry to lead us. We cannot go on like this.

“Sikhathele,” the miner said, we are tired. James Baldwin said a man with nothing to lose is a dangerous man. We have done this to our own people. There is something about the comfort of money that gives one amnesia. All black people used to march to the same beat as The Poor. They fought, died, for their freedom. A pity that this freedom was for some, not for all.

I can imagine The Poor feel a great sense of betrayal. If I could relive 1992 I would be that person who got shot for charging at Madiba screaming “stick to your guns” over and over again.

I was alarmed a few weeks back when we sent the army to the Cape Flats because the police could not control the violence. I was alarmed that the violence had escalated that badly to warrant a call for the army. Imagine a country at war with its people/itself. I was alarmed to hear that during the Khayelitsha protests people had thrown petrol bombs at police and police had responded with live ammunition.

“Sikhathele,” these words must sink in. Let them marinate in the bowels of your fear.

People do not want welfare. They want education and jobs so they can be just like you. Have a house in Sandton if they so choose. They will take the welfare rather than starve still. And people are tired of being mules for the rich.

Now that the rainbow nation bubble has burst, perhaps we can get back to the real work of freeing blacks.

The same business our people are killing each other for is the same business that traded in our pain during apartheid. It is unacceptable.

“It is not AMCU or NUM that said we shouldn’t go to work – it’s us, the workers”.

It seems we have found the man with nothing to lose. The miner risks his life every day in his job. He has gone beyond fearing death and he is gatvol of economic apartheid.

It seems the only language SA understands is violence, because the people have begged and pleaded to no avail.

This was an uprising of the poor. A declaration of war.

We in our comfortable homes and offices can speculate and debate till we are grey. It will not change the fact that The Poor have lost faith in leadership and are taking matters into their own hands. The Poor are willing to die so their children can have a better future.

We need a renegotiation of the terms of our freedom because seemingly it is not working for blacks. We need leaders who will be pro-people, not pro-business and investors. The people are the engine that runs business. The people are not happy. They say it is enough. They have written this declaration with their blood.

Let us not raise our security walls and call in the police in response. Introspection is needed here. Let us open our hearts to the plight of The Poor. Imagine ourselves in their shoes and then do the right thing.

Sunday Independent: Ermelo residents see no reason to vote

Ermelo residents see no reason to vote

Dianne Hawker

“We don’t care about Gucci and Prada. We just want delivery eKasi,” says a Wesselton resident after four days of heated, violent protests in the township near Ermelo, Mpumalanga.

It is Friday morning and he is one of scores of young, unemployed men walking the streets.

The anger in his voice is palpable. He spits the words “Gucci” and “Prada” out, referring to the penchant for fine things ANC politicians have acquired in their years of power.

The man, who identifies himself only as Nkosinathi, believes he will probably chastised and perhaps even killed for speaking out against the ruling party. This is Mpumalanga, after all.

“I’ve been receiving threats. People are telling me we are on a hit list because we are anti-revolutionary and anti-ANC. We are not anti-ANC. These are the very same issues that confront the communities of other areas. We want decent water, toilets and jobs. But (those other communities) are living in fear.”

Residents of Wesselton say they are no longer afraid. They faced off against police, some of whom used live ammunition, and most have lived to see the next day. One “comrade” has died. Solomon Madonsela has become a martyr.

What simmers here is an anger that has turned into a resolute decision: we will not accept this; we deserve better.

The signs of their struggle are not contained to one section of the sprawling settlement. Destroyed traffic lights, Telkom public phones, burnt containers and the tell-tale black smear left by burnt tyres can be seen throughout the area. Where there are no tyre marks, stones and glass are scattered on the road and pavement.

Nkosinathi spends his time with other angry young men. Some would call them militant. They are fiercely political. The call each other “comrade” and say they are fierce ANC supporters, but in the same breath vow not to vote for the ruling party – or anyone else – in the upcoming local government elections.

Community leader Dumisani Mahaye says he will make the proposal to thee community at a meeting to be held tomorrow.

Mahaye says the party, which has a majority of council seats in the Msukaligwa Municipality, should be “grounded like an errant child” by communities withholding their endorsement at the polls.

“The ANC has been promising for years. It’s been doing that since 1994. But it never lives up to its promises.”

Another “comrade” appears and joins the circle, saying the ANC’s approach doesn’t help, but arguing that the solution cannot be to vandalise state and private property. “Hasn’t the community learnt anything after 15 years? You can voice your anger, but it’s wrong to damage property. When we are angry we can’t break things that belong to us,” he says. Some nod in agreement. “The ANC angers people because it doesn’t engage them.”

There is a suggestion that 50 percent of all local jobs be retained for residents, both at the surrounding mines and in the council.

The circle is divided – some call for a 70 percent job quota for locals, while others say skills development is what’s really needed.

Mahaye goes so far as to suggest that councillor salaries be scrapped and that money be used for skills projects.

“People don’t work because they are not skilled. Why not take the councillor salaries and build something that will help people? What do the councillors do? People don’t see them. Why should they get paid?”

And older resident overhears the debate and offers his opinion. Having lived in Ermelo for more than 40 years, Jeremiah Khumalo is just as frustrated as the young men. His gripe is with a seemingly inefficient and uncaring municipality, which, he says, has ignored a request for technicians to be sent to his home to repair a burst pipe.

He takes us to his home, where water can be seen running from a hole in his driveway into the street. He scoops it out to show us the damaged pipe, explaining that he has reported it to at least three different people, including a clerk in the mayor’s office. Two months later, water still runs into the street.

Several streets away we are shown another property that has lost a large portion of its lawn to a growing body of water.

According to homeowner Moses Duma and several neighbours, council workers dug the hole “and just left it” in April.

Residents say children regularly play in the dirty water after school. Even more disturbing is the electric cabling which runs beneath the hole.

Duma says the hole was initially dug to fix a burst pipe. “They keep promising: they are coming, they are coming. But they don’t come.”

His brother Collin emerges from the house and tells us that a child nearly drowned recently. “The kids like to play in this water. I saw one of them nearly drown but I managed to get them out.”

Municipal spokesman Surprise Ngcongo said last week that the protests “had nothing to do with service delivery concerns as greatly exaggerated in the mainstream media”.

“Msukaligwa Municipality did not receive any written memorandum from the angry protesters relating to service delivery concerns.”

However not everyone in Wesselton is a “comrade”, hellbent on facing off with the state – headed by a previous generation of comrades, who many believe have forgotten their cadres.

At the small shopping complex that was the scene of violent clashes with police last week, we find Sibusiso Madi. Beside him are crutches; his foot is in bandages. He is not political, says he was not involved in protests, and just wants to return to work.

Madi is one of few residents who are gainfully employed, but today finds himself sharing an uncomfortable set of steps with the many unemployed youngsters who walk the streets of Wesselton.

“I was on my way to work. I was coming to catch my bus over there (he points at a nearby bus shelter). The police didn’t ask any questions, they just shot at me. I had to run away.”

What’s worse, as a result of the protests, Madi was trapped in the burning township from Monday, when he was shot, until Thursday. “No ambulance could come in. And the community wouldn’t let any cars in. I was prepared to pay R40 for a cab to go to the hospital. But they couldn’t come in,” he says.

As a result of the protest, he has lost out on the R1 600 he would have earned in a fortnight doing construction work on the N17 highway.

Selina Ngwenya is also just trying to get by. She sits on a pile of used coal, looking for pieces that can be used. She does not have electricity and uses the coal for cooking. “Sometimes we spend the whole day doing this. We have to look for pieces that are big.”

She also took part in the protest: “We want toilets, water and electricity.”

In Khayelihle, a new part of the township, none of the roads are tarred and there are a few green portable toilets in the area.

We see about five taps placed throughout the shack settlement, and residents are seen walking back and forth with containers.

A group of women, including Sibongile Khosi and Hlezipho Khumalo, complain that the portable toilets are often not collected for two weeks. They also believe the area needs more taps.

Will Khosi vote this year? “I won’t vote. Who will I say I’m voting for? How long have I been dirtying my ID book with stamps, going to vote? I don’t trust anyone.”

Review: Planet of Slums – Mike Davis

Review: Planet of Slums – Mike Davis

Mike Davis’s Planet of Slums is not, as Arundhati Roy too generously comments on the cover, ‘A profound enquiry into an urgent subject…a brilliant book.’ It is true that as he rushes to his apocalyptic conclusions Davis does pull down numbers and quotes from a dazzling ranging of literature with a flamboyant confidence. And much of the research that he cites points to general truths of urgent importance. There are already a billion slum dwellers on the planet and our current trajectory is thrusting us into a future with many major cities primarily built on shit, made of mud, plastic and scrap wood and constantly at risk from fire. Post-colonial elites have aggressively adapted racial zoning to class and tend to withdraw to residential and commercial themeparks. Where states offer some alternative to shack dwellers it is usually forced removal to bleak ghettos outside of cities.

But this avalanche of information hasn’t always been pulled out of the library with sufficient care. South African readers will be astonished at Davis’ confusion of townships with shack settlements. And although he describes the World Bank’s professional staff as the ‘postmodern equivalent of the colonial civil service’ and ascribes the growth of the slum to neoliberal polices he never problematises the fact that he relies so heavily on the work of the Bank and other institutions of contemporary imperialism. He seems to lack the courage to take his analysis seriously which would, amongst other things, require him to approach most of his sources with a large degree of suspicion rather respectful collegiality.

The thinking of people who live in shacks is entirely absent from this book. Davis does pose the question about the extent to which shack dwellers may or may not have the capacity for historical agency but misses numerous opportunities to indicate that the very question is profoundly prejudicial. For example he uses phrases such as ‘despite riots and protests’ but never enquires into what the rioters and protesters were thinking. The riot appears as a natural phenomenon. Similarly his, again naturalising, description of Soweto as ‘having grown from a suburb to a satellite city’ leaves out the history of the shack dwellers’ movement, Sofasonke which in 1944 led more than ten thousand people to occupy the land that would later become Soweto. And he makes no attempts to show that shack dwellers have often been cultural innovators. He could, for example, have pointed to the large gay section of the Cato Manor settlement in Durban where homosexual marriage was pioneered in South Africa in the 1950s or noted that so much American music stems from a shack dweller – Woody Guthrie.

But as his book rushes to its apocalyptic conclusion Davis’s slips into what can only be called racism. There are warning signs along the way. He observes that in Accra 75% of waste in black bags contains foetuses and chooses to mention only one cause of the African AIDS holocaust – ‘the poverty-enforced prostitution of poor women’. These are bizarre statements without any credible empirical basis that clearly pander to racist stereotype. But things fall apart when he concludes the book with a look, largely through imperial eyes, at Kinshasha. He notes in passing that the city has been ‘officially expelled from the world economy by its Washington overseers’ and makes a couple of comments about the damage done by the IMF’s successive structural adjustment programmes. The civil war is just noted in passing and even then the comment comes via USAID. Congolese soldiers are described as ‘rapine’ but similarly pejorative language is not used for the IMF or the imperial forces working with local war lords to support rapacious extraction by multi-nationals. Davis even cites an anthropologist declaring the 1991 ‘popular pillaging of factories, stores, and warehouses’ to be ‘perverse’. But the real horror, which Davis without Conrad’s ultimate ambiguity calls ‘Kurtzian’, is reserved for the ‘fear of sorcery’ (described as ‘renascent’ and as ‘perverse’) which has led to ‘the mass-hysterical denunciation of thousands of child ‘witches’ and their ‘expulsion to the streets, even their murder.’ ‘USAID researchers’, we are told, ‘blame the industry of self-made preachers’. This image of a general ‘Kurtzian’ horror is accepted uncritically, despite its powerful resonance with racist stereotype, and Davis sees no reason to label USAID, who work to legitimate state murder, as well as rapacious modes of extraction to the metropole, in similarly pejorative ways. They appear as neutral eyes, white eyes dutifully confronting the horror out there in dark Africa. When he does make the quick gesture of briefly citing a local intellectual, who speaks of ‘an economy of resistance’ conferring honour on the poor, he describes him, in high colonial fashion, as “an authentic Kinois”.

In his epilogue Davis notes that the American military is planning to fight its future wars in urban slums and calls their thinking in this regard ‘the highest stage of Orientialism, the culmination of a long history of defining the West by opposition to a halluncinatory Eastern Other…(a) delusionary dialectic of securitized versus demonic urban spaces.’ The problem is that this is a pretty accurate description of his own work. His final sentence declares that while ‘the empire has Orwellian technologies of repression, its outcasts have the gods of chaos on their side.’ So much for transcending pejorative binaries. Last I heard the empire was unleashing a fair degree of chaos and resistances in shack settlements were often highly ordered and rational affairs.

*See the attachments for various other more recent reviews, positive and negative.

Housing crisis is everybody’s problem – Sisulu

Housing crisis is everybody’s problem – Sisulu
Minister calls for wealthy to dig into their pockets to help eradicate slums and promote better living for all

May 21, 2006 Edition 1

Christelle Terreblanche

Lindiwe Sisulu, the housing minister, has made a rousing appeal to South Africa’s wealthy to help eradicate the country’s slums in order to provide dignity for all.

Speaking at an international slum-dwellers conference in Cape Town this week, she said “shelter” was at the moment “a poor man’s problem” and not seen as a universal issue.

“The poor stand alone in trying to convince the rich that housing is a necessity and an important problem,” Sisulu said.

Her appeal comes on the eve of her housing budget vote speech in parliament on Wednesday, where she is expected to make a major announcement about private funding to help eradicate the housing backlog.

Sisulu was also set to provide more details about efforts to compel all role-players in the housing industry to set aside a percentage of their investments for housing for the poor as part of an unprecedented social contract she hoped to forge.

Sisulu earlier this year clashed with banks after they were perceived to have reneged on aspects of a ground-breaking deal last year to make R42 billion available for housing loans to low-income groups that previously did not qualify.

In February, she accused the banks of dragging their feet over the loans – a centrepiece of her plan for a massive building boom aimed at not only eradicating shacks and changing the apartheid landscape but also providing the poor with sustainable assets.

Sisulu warned them that a bill to compel banks to make the loans was “in the drawer” ready to be processed before the end of the year. In an interview with Independent Newspapers, she would not lift the lid on the outcome ahead of her address to parliament this week, but it is reliably understood that agreement between the parties was reached recently and that a large-scale roll-out of loans to the poor was set to kick off.

Opening the conference on Friday, attended by about 200 representatives of Slumdwellers International from different countries around the world, she described the current period in history as one of the best so far recorded, “but morally very wanting”.

“The consciousness of the rich [is] closed to the poverty that surrounds them,” she said.

Sisulu said she wanted to repeat her concern that South Africa’s poor were among those who found themselves at the bottom of the housing pile and that housing provision was also central to meeting other United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) such as universal access to drinking water.

“Therefore the fight to ensure that the MDG’s we have set for housing [are reached] is a unique challenge to us. It should be a conscience-pricking goal for the rich * to see that they can provide dignity for all, because eventually it would have nothing to do with their own security of tenure, with their own comfort.”

A cornerstone of her ambitious plan for sustainable settlements is to eradicate 2,4 million slum dwellings by 2014 through building 15 percent more houses each year, in line with South Africa’s commitment towards the housing MDGs.

In her capacity as chairperson of an organisation founded in February, the African Ministers on Housing and Urban Development, she stressed that the body resolved to go far beyond the goals set by the UN as only a fraction of those living in slums on the continent would have benefited.

“So we are working very hard to change the mindset of the housing institutions to try to ensure that we can change the format of the MDGs.”

The organisations resolved last month that involvement of the poor in reaching the goals was a priority. In line with this, Sisulu pledged a whopping R145 million at the conference towards 5 000 housing subsidies for poor people in five provinces aligned to the Federation of Urban Poor (Fedup), which hosted the international event with slum-dweller partners on three continents in preparations for an international workshop in Canada next month.

The Western Cape administration pledged a further R36 million to Fedup, whose aim is to get beneficiaries involved in decision-making and construction of their houses.

“What we are trying to do is to ensure that we change the culture of our people,” Sisulu said of the government’s joint venture with Fedup.

She lamented the fact that banks were not present at the three-day event.

“The culture of saving in South Africa is lacking. We have involvement with experienced international organisations that are able to show it is possible to save for your house and then to determine where you live, how you live. The only stakeholders that are not here are the banks and it would have been nice to have them explain how savings and access to finance work.”

She acknowledged that previous efforts to get the poor involved in housing had failed but that recent visits to Brazil, Thailand and India had shown how it could be done.

“If they can do it, we can do it better. That is my philosophy,” she said.

Home is Where My Shack Is

Independent on Saturday

Home is Where My Shack Is


Driving past the numerous squatter camps I do on my way to and from work
everyday, I couldn’t help but wonder what it looked like inside or what it
must be like to live in such conditions.

My curiosity got the better of me and although some thought it might kill
me, I decided to brave the objections and see for myself.

What did the other side of the breadline – the poorest side – what did it
look like and more importantly how did they survive?

I visited 135 Foreman Road, the address given to a cluster of shacks in
Clare Estate.

While parking on the dirt road near the shacks, I couldn’t help but feel

I didn’t know what to expect and a sense of dread came over me as I locked
the car, looked over my shoulders and checked again that the car was locked
and alarm on.

I walked slowly towards what seemed like an endless number of “jondols”, as
we call it and the sight of naked children roaming around, men sitting
under make-shift shelters trying to ward off the heat and piles of filth
strewn across dirt, greeted me first.

I wanted to take a deep breath in just to calm down but decided against it,
just in case I passed out from the stench of whatever it was that made
places like these earn their negative reputation.

My stomach turned and my hands trembled as I approached the men and told
them my reasons for being there.

They stood up with outstretched hands and introduced themselves to me.
Their manner astounded me and their enthusiasm to show me their homes and
take me into their lives was unbelievable. Never before in our
sophisticated, somewhat elitist society have I ever been made to feel so

The first home I visited was that of Lunga Ndabankulu, 31.
Nestled in the center of numerous other “rooms”, his humble home as he
called it consisted of 2 rooms held together by wood, piece of iron and
sheets of plastic.

The sun lit up the rooms through the numerous holes in the roof and the walls.
He explained that it took him four hours to build his home, using waste
material from a nearby dumpsite.

“I’ve been living here for ten years. It’s my home,” he said.
Ndabankulu who is from the Eastern Cape, came to Durban in search of work
so he could support his child Xatyiswa, 9.

He sold plastic bags and carried parcels outside shopping centres to earn
enough money to open a small tuck shop that he now runs.
On average he earns R600 and sends R300 to his family in the Eastern Cape,
puts R200 in a bank accounts and survives on R100 a month.
His bedroom is a far cry from the comforts we are used to.

His bed is held by pieces of plank and a blanket covers a very worn out
sponge. He uses beer bottles as candle holders, a cardboard box as a table
and a car battery for his old tv and radio which entertains that entire

An old fridge stores his food which is mostly rice, cans of beans and
mealie meal and when he wants to cook, he borrows a gas stove from the

I was amazed that while I stress about reaching higher rungs in society’s
imaginary ladder, there was someone who was so content with his lot and
making the best of what he had, the only way he could.

I asked him about using the bathroom and how that works and he pointed to
the bathing facilities that were provided by the municipality.

“They are broken so we have man made toilets and showers. Everyday there
are long queues to use the toilets and the showers. There is no such thing
as using the toilet when you need to – you have to wait,” he said.
He jokes with me about the holes in the walls as I tell him that I can’t
handle the blistering heat.

“Look at all my ventilation,” he said, pointing to the holes and laughing.
But then I asked him what he did when it rained and he said: “I just pull
my mattress and all my things back into a drier place in my room and wait
for the rain to stop,” he said.

My next stop was the room of Mputhumi Bandezi. I was amazed at how small it
was and realised that most of us have bathrooms that are bigger.
Bandezi is a contract worker at Independent Newspapers and sells newspapers
on street corners.

Immediately I asked him why he was living in a squatter camp if he was working.
“Rent is too expensive. With the same money, I can live here and feed my
family,” he said.

I was shocked to learn that he didn’t live in that little room alone.
He was infact married and had three children aged 7, 5 and 1 and I was

“How do you all live in here,” I asked.

His room was so small and had only a small bed, a cardboard box as a table,
a vegetable rack, a paraffin stove and a cooler box.

“My wife and I sleep on the floor and the children sleep on the bed. We
keep our clothes in suitcases and with our food in a cooler box,” he said.
Then I was taken for a walk down a flight of stairs, to the next “phase” of
the camp.

There were 10 men sitting in the shade listening to Ndabankulu’s radio and
they were surrounded by empty bottles, plastic bags, waste and absolute
filth. There were also broken trolleys lying in the pathways and burned
drums used as stools.

Lungisani Jama , 27 showed me to his house and I was surprised to see that
it was actually double storey. There was a very scary looking ladder going
upstairs and I quickly turned down the invitation, too scared that the
frailty of the ladder won’t carry my weight.

While I stood there contemplating my next move, I noticed a very sombre
looking woman go into one of the rooms.

Her name was Thoko Nellie Msweli, 44 and has been living there for 2 years.
“I used to live in a low cost housing outbuilding but I had to pay R250.00
rent and couldn’t afford it. Then my aunt called her here and the residents
helped me build it,” she said.

Her room was the neatest I had ever seen. She called me inside the very
small room and I sat on her extremely neat bed which I realised later was
big sheets of cardboard piled on crates. A big sheet and blanket covered it
to disguise what was underneath.

There were 2 tables against the wall, a gas stove, 2 buckets in which food
was kept under the table and her clothes were ironed and hung neatly on
nails in the wall.

Her iron was the bottom part of an ordinary iron and pieces of wire was
attached to it as the handle and she described to me how she irons her
three sets of clothes on the bed.

While sitting there I noticed that the brightly coloured walls were
actually opened up milk and juice cartons used as wall paper. I also
noticed that there were tiny holes in the roof and I wondered how she kept
the rain out.

“Simple, I just patch it with sunlight soap and the rain doesn’t come in,”
she said.

Msweli said she is never scared as everyone is close by and we all care for
and take care of each other.

“We all help each other and protect each other,” she said.
Like the rest, she also survives on a little more than R100 a month which
she earns from doing housekeeping jobs.

“Every month I buy 10 kilos rice, ice for little meat, mealie meal, beans,
tinned food and I eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch and supper,” she

Next door to her, four cousins all lived together in a tiny, very dark
room. Nkosinathi Hlambelo, 19, Mzikayise Majekeni, 19, Kutele Bhekiswane,
22 and Simphile Maduna, 20 from Bizane, came to Durban also in search of
work. Their room is far from what can be considered hygienic or
satisfactory living conditions.

2 of the men sleep on bed on dirt floor covered only by fragments of
plastic and 2 sleep on the “bed”, also cardboard on crates.
They have a make shift table from pieces of wood, a gas stove, a broken
vegetable rack and an even more run down cupboard, all cramped together in
the small space. Nails on the walls hold their shoes, packets, hats, bags
and clothes.

They too live on rice, beans, pap, potato’s and sometimes meat.
While still talking to them I heard a laugh which seemed familiar. It could
only have come from a baby.

Immediately I went in the direction of the giggle and found 10 month old,
Qinisela Nzuza, playing in a dish of water with two other children
Siphesihle Sosiba, 4 and Asanda Sosiba, 2.

His mum Sibongile Ndlovu, 29 has been living there for 9 years.
The small room they lived in had a single bed, an old fridge to sit on and
shelves to keep things on.

But my only focus was the little boy playing so care free in the water.
I have a 12 month old son as well and I wondered how he would fit into the

I realised that I spent so much of my time providing him with all the
comforts he could possibly need that I never gave a thought to the children
out there who had to live with very little.

I spend on average of R1200 every month for my son’s food, nappies and
other “essentials” and I wondered how this mum was surviving every month.
“I don’t have a problem. I breastfed him until he was six months old and
now he eats whatever we eat. I have 4 towelling nappies that I wash and dry
everytime it’s soiled so it ready for his next change. I don’t need wet
wipes and all the other things,” she said.

Wow, I was speechless as I watched the children play around the baby and
watched them laugh with such innocence.

By the time I had gone back up to the car, I saw the men come to me with a
litre of coke which they collected money to buy.

With a glass in their hand which they obviously tried their best to clean,
they poured me some and insisted I drink.

My cheeks were burning from the heat and actually was really parched.
I accepted gratefully and laughed with them as they told me jokes and funny
stories of what happens in their little community.

Driving back to the office I laughed at myself and all the preconceived,
negative ideas I had of squatter camps and people living in shacks. At the
end of the day they were only human and trying to make the best of
everything they had with very little complaint.

I saw something that we as the “upper class” really lack in our society. I
saw unity, humility and a true spirit of togetherness.