With local elections just four months away, politicians outchea schmoozing, the residents of one informal settlement are having none of it. MBALI ZWANE reports.
Residents at Hopefield, an informal settlement outside Ennerdale, south of Johannesburg are boycotting this year’s local elections. They say they are “gatvol” of politicians and local councillors visiting them every time an election is near, and then neglecting them the rest of the time.
During the last voter registration weekend on 9 and 10 April, police fired rubber bullets and teargas, and also arrested some residents after a community hall was set alight in a protest against service delivery.
“We didn’t attack the police; why would we attack police who have guns while we don’t have any? We were merely protesting because the government seems to prioritise areas that protest and burn stuff. We thought this too will help us,” local businesswoman Lorraine Mzayiya said. According to Mzayiya, policemen dressed in riot gear fired rubber bullets and launched stun grenades at residents at them. Several people were injured and five arrested. Four of those arrested were charged with inciting public violence while one had his charges dropped.
For her, and other residents in Hopefields, protest is their last resort.
The informal settlement of more than 200 shacks and approximately 900 people is riddled with challenges, including sanitation, running water and electricity. The open pit toilets are a health hazard to residents and are used by an average of ten different people daily. Residents have to use communal taps and collect their own waste, which they burn because there’s no waste management system in place. “Sometimes the toilets are damaged or smell so bad during warm weather with all the insects around them that we opt to go into the bush. We get sick because of these toilets,” said Mzayiya. Her biggest concern is that she has had to teach her 8-year-old son how to adjust the illegal electricity connections when the lights turn off in her absence.
Children have to walk for an estimated 30 minutes to the nearest school and residents have to walk even further to the police station or the councillor’s office. The clinic is about 5km from the informal settlement. “I’m not going to vote while I live in such conditions. I’ll only vote once I see developments happening here and our livelihood is improved,” said Mabaso, “Protesting helped us because the mayor and premier came to see the conditions we’re living under. They said they hadn’t heard about this place or our grievances before the protest.”
Although police arrested five residents for public violence following the protest, they said the burning of the hall and tyres was done collectively, therefore the police had no case arresting individuals. Nthabiseng Mabaso said police preyed on injured people and accused them of burning the hall because they didn’t witness anyone doing it.
“The other two were arrested after being shot. It wasn’t a small group of residents that burnt that building, it’s the whole community. We’re not pointing fingers at anybody,” she said. It is the same collective spirit that raised R6, 000 from residents of the informal settlement to bail out those that had been arrested.
Thabo Skorobele was shot in his thigh while walking to a nearby shop to buy a cigarette. He is one of the few residents from Hopefield who did register to vote. “I’m a responsible person so I will be voting. I’m not entirely happy with the government about my living conditions but it’s not bad; I still get my grant every month with no problem for years now. I’ll be voting for the ANC because they fought against apartheid and have given us what we have today – the shacks and the platform to protest about service delivery,” said Skorobele.
Both Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau and Gauteng Premier David Makhura said they would return on May 5 with feedback and a detailed plan on how they will be assisting the residents. However, Mabaso and Mzayiya are not holding their breath because they have had promises made to them by officials but none were fruitful. The pair said similar promises were made by the councillor when they voted him in.
“They only know us and where we will during election time. They hardly set foot here,” said Mabaso.