“Nothing hurts like seeing your family and community members perish one after another due to TB and road accidents. We were dumped in this place,” said Linda Vilakazi, a spokesperson for the Isipingo Transit Camp. He was speaking at a media briefing on Wednesday.
Bare wires, mud and overflowing toilets and a stench of crushed glass from nearby recycling activity greet you as you walk into the camp. A decade later, residents of this camp lament the alarming conditions they are living under.
One resident, Zamile Sosibo, says they were removed from their homes and promised formal houses within six to eighteen months, but nearly 10 years later they are among the forgotten people of the city.
“We are suffering. People die of diseases and others are being killed on the road because there’s no proper transport for us. We have to stand on the yellow line of the main road and wait for passing taxis in order to get to town,” she said.
Similar to many others whom she say they usually frequent the nearby Isipingo Clinic, Sosibo has had to quit her job due to tuberculosis.
“The air we breathe is polluted, people are dying in numbers because of TB. I was last employed in 2015 but after being diagnosed with TB that would be treated and come back, I was unable to work,” said Sosibo.
Isipingo Transit Camp, South Durban is a home to more than 400 families, with each family of between five to seven members sharing the small one-roomed cubicle. Their homes in different areas including uMlazi, Mayville and the Bluff were demolished by the municipality in 2009 in preparation of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. But many years later, they say the promises made to them were never fulfilled.
“We were told that we would only stay here for only 6 to 18 months. The municipality had promised to move us to Cornubia once the RDP houses were complete. Now, there’s more than 2000 RDP houses built there but here we are, still in this camp,” said Vilakazi.
He added that there have been engagements with different stakeholders about the situation in the camp but people’s grievances fell on deaf ears.
“We sat with the mayor and the head of human settlements but none of the results from those meetings were fruitful,” he said.
Isipingo Transit Camp is surrounded by a glass recycling company and a scrap yard. Residents are complaining about the harmful fumes from these neighboring companies. They say that these fumes put their lives at risk, the young and the old frequently suffer from TB.
People have protested and blockaded the roads out of desperation.
They say instead of the leaders hearing them out, force has been used by the police officials to try and defuse the situation.
“They target us and shoot at us. Sometimes they come into the camp and fire teargas without caring that there are kids and elderly people living here.
“Nobody understands our situation. The area is muddy, toilets are broken and raw feces is overflowing and during rainy seasons the whole camp is flooded,” said Vilakazi.
Sanitation and electricity
Meanwhile there’s no proper electricity and water in this place, people are forced to connect both water and electricity illegally. Bare electrical wires lay around the ground from one cubicle to another, and the children play around the open toilet containers provided by the municipality.
Another community member Phumelele Makhathini said the environment is not safe to raise kids.
“We use paraffin and candles for light and cooking. It’s risky for our kids because we aren’t always around and they are just kids sometimes they end up drinking paraffin.
“We don’t work, we rely on [piecemeal] jobs. Some of these piece jobs are away from town so we can’t really keep an eye on these kids, the thought that one day we’ll go to work and come back to find the houses in ashes always crosses my mind,” she said.
Meanwhile there’s no reliable transport for the residents of the camp, those travelling to work in the wee hours of the morning stand a great risk of being hit and run over by cars.
Mbali Shabalala was hit by a taxi while hitchhiking to work on the roadside of Umbumbulu M3 road in June. Although she was the only breadwinner in her family of ten, she says she hasn’t been able to work since then as her wounds haven’t healed yet.
“I was standing in the yellow line while cars were moving in both directions. A taxi tried to overtake another and there was no way I could escape so it hit me on the spot,” Shabalala said.
Shabalala said while she can’t go back to work, making ends meet has been nearly impossible as they now survive on grant money for the young ones.
“We have no proper place to live, we are squashed in this one room with not enough money to feed the whole family. My mother is unemployed and my five brothers are still at school. It’s a very frustrating way of living,” she said.
She added that she is battling with her wounds which won’t heal due to infections from the environment she is living in at the camp.
All images by Lizeka Maduna