What has become of Kliptown?
On June 26 1955 the Freedom Charter is adopted in Kliptown, Soweto. The Congress of the People is held over two days in an open space, in what was a coloured township outside Johannesburg. On February 3 2016, 61 years later, a collection of cramped corrugated iron frames makes up what the community calls home, just a stone’s throw away from the famous square. A line of about 10 mobile toilets stand locked. In front of them, children play a game of jumping over a rivulet of a cocktail of sewage, decaying food, bits of broken beer bottles and what were once brightly coloured chip packets.
Welcome to part of Ward 17 in Kliptown.
Security and comfort
“All people shall have the right to live where they choose, to be decently housed and to bring up their families in comfort and security,” reads the Freedom Charter.
“Slums shall be demolished, and new suburbs built where all have transport, roads, lighting, playing fields, crèches and social centres.”
Outside his shack, Samson Botha (42) sits on black crates with his wife and some friends, gambling. “We have three children, but they live with their grandmother on the other side of Kliptown. I can’t keep them here; the wood is rotting and water comes in when it rains. I recycle scraps and bottles for money. Neither of us is working. We are gambling now to get some money because my bottles got stolen.”
Botha points to the toilets. “You know, this thing is political, we are meant to share those toilets but I don’t get the key. If you are not ANC, you can’t use the toilet. So I have to walk across the street there; at night I have to get up and walk my wife there if she needs to go because it is not safe. “I’m going to vote for the DA again, 100%.” Making her way to the shops, stepping over some stubborn greenery which has dared to grow in between the stony terrain, is 58-year-old Sylvia Fernandes. She makes the trek to the shops every day because there is no electricity, so her food does not keep.
“I can’t keep a fridge because izinyoka [electricity thieves] steal the cables. But I must make a skaftin [lunch box] for my son. He works at a furniture shop where [his boss] pays him R400 a week.”
Last year Fernandes was retrenched from her job at a boot factory. She has been waiting for a house since 1998, and lives here with her 30-year-old epileptic son.
“How long are we going to sit without houses in Kliptown? People have died in their shacks waiting for homes.
“I don’t want a mansion, I just want a comfortable safe home for me and Antonio.”
Asked if she will vote this year, Fernandes asks: “When is that voting thing happening again?”
Unused housing space
Making his way towards the city is Kliptown’s “safety ambassador”, Jeffrey Mokoena (48), who lives around the corner. He stops to greet DA councillor Michelle Valentine – as many others do throughout the afternoon – before checking in on his neighbourhood. As he speaks his long, thick dreadlocks, covered with a red-bucket hat, swing back and forth, brushing his thin, high cheekbones.
“That place around the corner is called Mandela Square, but it is an ill-fitting name for this place,” he says before listing a number of murders in the past two weeks.
“I am a member of the ruling party, but voting for them is questionable. We are asking ourselves what they have done for us, and maybe what other parties can do if we give them a chance. If we answer that the ruling party has failed, then tough luck, we will move on.” Mokoena voted in 2014, but will not divulge who for. “I am an analytical person, so I balanced the equations and went for someone that made more sense.”
He points out a piece of vacant land. “We have a challenge of housing, but there is talk of building some warehouse there.
“These red ones [the EFF] make sense, if I am honest. They are touching on something sensitive happening in the country. There are more than 550 houses that have been built up the road; they have been sitting there vacant for a few years because they are unfit to live in.”
Valentine looks incongruently regal in a purple paisley maxi dress. The two belong to opposing parties, but enjoy a good relationship.
Mokoena says local councillors have often been on the receiving end of communities’ anger.
“Before, we used to attack councillors for failing us. It is not so. If the councillor is not respected where she represents us, we need to point fingers elsewhere.
“The MEC of housing must respond to our issues – not her,” he says, gesturing towards Valentine.
“The ANC should not campaign with housing; housing is a governance and service-delivery issue. It is separate from what you tell us when you campaign; politicians must not try to fool us.
“There must be a boundary between campaigning and delivering services.”
Valentine, who lives in nearby Eldorado Park, laments the dire housing conditions, saying she has knocked on doors trying to find a solution, but with no luck.
She was a member of the Independent Democrats before its president, Patricia de Lille, joined the DA. She is also confident the DA will keep Ward 21 after the elections.
“All people shall have equal rights to trade where they choose, to manufacture and to enter all trades, crafts and professions,” reads the Freedom Charter.
The average monthly income per household in Ward 21 is R2 450 a month. Only 40% of residents are employed.
Mohamed Abdullah (40) points out what looks like an abandoned building. Someone lives there. “That wall fell and we got some zinc to try to hold it up,” he says.
“I am born and bred here. My dad lived here as well. The Freedom Charter was made here. This is the first place that should have been uplifted. Last week my wife was robbed in the dark of her purse and phone. My son’s shoes were taken off his feet – do you know how long we saved to get him those shoes?”
Abdullah stands surrounded by glass. His business is everything to do with glass and aluminium.
“My shop was over there, but the metro came and shut it down. Ja, it was a mkhukhu [shack], but it was a legal, registered business. Now I must rebuild here, away from the street. People are afraid to walk here, so I am losing money.
“I am actually afraid to vote. There is nothing that government is doing here, just promises and promises. Nothing is done for us small businesspeople trying to make an honest living.”
THE LOST COMMUNITY
Kliptown’s residents bemoan the dilapidated state of their neighbourhood, saying government has forgotten about them
AT PLAY IN THE DECAY plastic and other trash
Children in Kliptown’s Ward 17 jump for fun over a rivulet of sewage, spoilt food,
WARD WORK Councillor Michelle Valentine of the DA chats to ANC member Jeffrey Mokoena
LOSING HOPE Mohamed Abdullah and his daughter. ‘Government does nothing here,’ he says.