Wel­come to Fi­etas

The mixed-race com­mu­nity in Jo­han­nes­burg feels for­got­ten by politi­cians and many res­i­dents are adamant that they will not vote this year

CityPress - - News - S’THEM­BILE CELE sthem­bile.cele@city­press.co.za

Drive too fast and you’ll miss it. The small Jo­han­nes­burg com­mu­nity tucked be­tween Brix­ton and Fords­burg is an un­usual re­al­i­sa­tion of Nelson Man­dela’s rain­bow na­tion, liv­ing in – rel­a­tive – har­mony. Black, white and coloured peo­ple live side by side in poverty, ag­gra­vated by ram­pant drug abuse and a lack of recre­ation fa­cil­i­ties. The com­mu­nity that has had end­less run-ins with lo­cal govern­ment – both DA and ANC – say they have had enough and many are adamant that they will not vote this year. Wel­come to Fi­etas. It’s a hot Thurs­day af­ter­noon and a garage door is open. Young and old stream in and out, arms loaded with do­nated clothes. The garage be­longs to Tan­nie Leonie Cupido, whose hus­band, the lo­cal pas­tor, died the month be­fore. The only sign of her loss is the black out­fit she wears. She is a com­mu­nity worker who of­fers up her home to ev­ery­one, and gath­ers cloth­ing and food for her neigh­bours.

She hasn’t de­cided whether or not she’ll vote. “I think pol­i­tics has failed the peo­ple,” she says.

Al­though ev­ery­one calls their neigh­bour­hood Fi­etas, it is a col­lec­tive name for the sub­urbs of Vrede­dorp, Pageview and Jan Hofmeyr. Fi­etas, one of Joburg’s old­est town­ships, was es­tab­lished as the “Malay lo­ca­tion” in the 1880s. It was re­named and be­came ex­clu­sively oc­cu­pied by poor whites af­ter forced re­movals by the apartheid regime be­tween 1956 and 1977. The neigh­bour­hood is still poor, but its com­plex­ion has changed.

Tan­nie Leonie takes us on a tour of her neigh­bour­hood, of its di­lap­i­dated old-age home, cracked coun­cil houses, and back yards piled high with scrapped cars and beer crates. The num­ber of adult res­i­dents on the streets dur­ing work­ing hours bears tes­ti­mony to Fi­etas’ 50% un­em­ploy­ment rate. On the streets, about 20 peo­ple stop to give their con­do­lences to Tan­nie Leonie and tell her the lat­est drama in their lives. They say they won’t be vot­ing be­cause they have been let down too many times. Be­sides, many aren’t reg­is­tered to vote any­way and can’t be both­ered to get reg­is­tered.

Tan­nie Leonie in­tro­duces City Press to a group of five young peo­ple who call them­selves the com­mu­nity youth league fo­rum. They meet ev­ery Tues­day evening and dis­cuss ways to make life in their neigh­bour­hood bet­ter. They say they have re­peat­edly asked their lo­cal coun­cil­lor, the ANC’s Jerry Mus­esi, to help them, but he’s not in­ter­ested.

“When I was grow­ing up here, there was more to do, es­pe­cially for kids dur­ing school hol­i­days. All of that stuff is gone now and the kids must sit out on the streets and get in­volved with the wrong crowds,” says the league’s leader, Clin­ton Hen­dricks (32).

Run­ning with the wrong crowd is some­thing Hen­dricks knows a lot about. When he was just 16, he started us­ing drugs so that he could be ac­cepted by the in­crowd. He spent some time in Jo­han­nes­burg Prison a few years there­after, and has since cleaned up his life.

“It was tough in there, I never want to go back again. Your fam­ily can’t even come visit there be­cause my fam­ily didn’t have money, so I saw them maybe once a month, so you suf­fer,” he says, his voice trail­ing off.

He speaks of a year and a half of hell, dur­ing which he dodged gang af­fil­i­a­tions while main­tain­ing good re­la­tions with some dan­ger­ous peo­ple.

In the street, he comes across two young white boys who greet him and ask when they’ll meet next for chess club.

“Jy moet ouens kry wat kan kom [You should get other guys that can come],” Hen­dricks tells them.

The chess club is one of the small ways the un­em­ployed man tries to keep young Fi­etas res­i­dents out of trou­ble. As for keep­ing him­self out of trou­ble, Hen­dricks has found an­other method.

“I met this cherry and she has helped me keep my life on track. It is al­ways a girl, you know. I met her even be­fore I was on drugs, so she has stuck around. We’re

Lo­cal Govern­ment

get­ting mar­ried next week, but it is hard you know. She still lives with her par­ents and I live with mine be­cause we can­not af­ford our own place.”

Ac­cord­ing to census data, the av­er­age Fi­etas res­i­dent is 27 years old. Only 52% of the pop­u­la­tion get around to com­plet­ing ma­tric, and even fewer go to univer­sity, de­spite the close prox­im­ity of Wits and the Univer­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg.

By high school, many of Fi­etas’ young peo­ple are hooked on ev­ery­thing from heroin to co­caine, which are freely avail­able on the sub­urb’s streets.

“Last week­end we were at a fu­neral of a young girl who died from a drug over­dose. She was just 18,” says res­i­dent Miem­pie Havenga, hand­ing over a fu­neral pro­gramme bear­ing a grainy im­age of a young girl.

“The coun­cil­lor needs to stop the drugs. That girl that died took only a lit­tle bit ex­tra and she col­lapsed.”

Havenga’s sis­ter Tina in­ter­jects by say­ing that the last hit taken by the young woman was laced with rat poi­son.

The shy, Afrikaans-speak­ing Haven­gas live with their mother and four chil­dren in a cramped, tum­ble­down home. The yard is strewn with junk, and thin but ag­gres­sive dogs keep watch.

“I have been wait­ing for the govern­ment to give me a home for more than 25 years. They say I am still on the wait­ing list. I am not work­ing, my mother gets an oldage pen­sion and my son gets a dis­abil­ity grant,” says Miem­pie while sit­ting on her bed – its white sheet is cov­ered in old, stub­born stains.

“I like Fi­etas, but it is not safe to walk around at night. Too many drugs and peo­ple that will kid­nap you for money or hurt you. I called the po­lice and I showed them which house sells the drugs, and still they did noth­ing. They don’t do any­thing and the coun­cil­lors don’t do any­thing ei­ther. Where must the chil­dren play?”

The com­mu­nity youth league fo­rum – which held a picket against Mus­esi in Novem­ber and de­manded a meet­ing with him, help to fight the drug prob­lem and for proper recre­ation fa­cil­i­ties to be built – says it is now up to them to mo­bilise the com­mu­nity to make a dif­fer­ence.

“It will be dif­fi­cult be­cause a lot of peo­ple have just given up. Oth­ers are on drugs or are afraid of the drug lords, but we don’t want to fight with them, we are just fight­ing for a bet­ter space – es­pe­cially for the young kids here,” says Hen­dricks.

“The Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers is new, maybe we can go for them be­cause the ANC and DA have both been here and there is no change,” says a heav­ily preg­nant young woman who is a mem­ber of the youth league fo­rum.

But she is alone in her op­ti­mism that there is still a political party that can save Fi­etas.

PHO­TOS: EL­IZ­A­BETH SE­JAKE

TRAPPED IN POVERTY

Thoko Dlamini, Ni­cole Els and Ziza­kele Dlamini while away the af­ter­noon in Fi­etas

Sa­mukele, Thini, Mongi and Gez­imuzi Mthungwa. The Mthung­was do their best to get by and keep their chil­dren away from crime and drugs in the area

Fi­etas is home to a melt­ing pot of coloureds, Malays, In­di­ans and whites

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