Tired of waiting: the fight for a place to make a home

Mamakete Mookeletse, 48, is part of the backyard dwellers that want autonomy from a government that has failed them. She has moved from shack to shack since she moved to Freedom Park, south of Johannesburg, in 1998. The backyard dwellers of Freedom Park have been fighting for the land called Bushkoppies, or Emhlabeni since 2016. Mookeletse told The Daily Vox about her life in Freedom Park and why they’re fighting for the land they call Emhlabeni.

We just want them to give us our own piece of land. As you can see now there are RDPs in Freedom Park but in the beginning it was shacks. If we could just get a stand and erect our own shack, we can call it our own and we don’t have to pay rent. At the end of the day we could get the opportunity where they come and build an RDP house. We know that it starts with a piece of land and then you build your shack, and then maybe afterwards government will develop that area.

Right now there’s no development on Emhlabeni. There are some people living there on a full time basis, in the [employee housing] for people from Johannesburg Water. We could ask them for water. There’s a hall there as well that they use. It has toilets. We could ask if we could share them or they [government] could get us some Easy Loos. If the councillor agrees, then every week or daily, those trucks that carry water could bring us water.

I would worry about the other things later but right now it’s about getting that land. We don’t care if these things are not there. We’ll make a plan. We’ll chop wood to make a fire because it’s hard to buy paraffin. If you don’t have the money for a loaf of bread, where are you going to get it for paraffin?

I started staying here from 1998, renting a place. My living situation here has gotten worse. From the time I started staying here, I was renting because I was working. Since I have lost my job how can I manage to pay the rent? Even now I’m from an interview as you see me [dressed] like this. I was going to an interview here at Naturena Primary School for a general worker position. I lost my job as a cleaner in 2014 on 4 October. I was working under a contract.
My partner is working piece jobs because he has experience in plumbing and electricity. People call him and ask for him to fix things for them. It’s how we survive.

My eldest daughter is the one who was helping us because she was working. Now she isn’t working as well. She would buy us mielie meal and provide the children with bread so that they can have lunch for school.

Right now Mookeletse and her partner are living in an RDP house.

The owner was looking for someone to look after his house because he’s not around. He’s a person we knew from around the area and we would see him at our [community] meetings. We were available because we don’t work and we can’t pay rent.

I have a C-form from 1994. Government is still telling us that we are on the waiting list. We keep on going to check at [Department of] Housing. They keep on saying that we are still on the waiting list. We signed up for housing in town but they tell us that the allocation for this area is done at Bara [Baragwanath]. So we don’t appear on Bara’s database. We have to start afresh and sign-up at the database at Bara. Now that we are on the new system, we are further down the list. It’s like that. But when you look, the people that were born while we were living here have houses.

People that were born in our hands have already got RDP houses. And most of them, when you look at them, are people that have jobs where you can see that he or she can afford to buy a house. Meanwhile we are not working. We don’t have the income, but we’re not allocated houses. Most of the children who stay here are children that work. They have their own things, they drive cars. You can see the houses from last year. Behind those walls there are cars and you ask yourself, where did this person get it? A person like that – are they struggling like me?

In the beginning I was ANC but when I saw how things were being done, how they chose each other because they knew each other for tenders and jobs, we don’t participate in those things [politics]. If you’re not known, or if you don’t participate in that culture, you don’t get work. What’s the use of trying at something where you won’t succeed? There are many tenders and job opportunities. They just pick friends and each other’s children.

As told to Nolwandle Zondi, edited for brevity and clarity.

Featured image by Mihlali Ntsabo