In August 2015, residents from Ginsberg blockaded roads demanding better roads and other services from the local municipality. In the following month of September, the month when the founder of Black Conciousness in South Africa, Steve Biko, saw a number of political parties coming to Ginsberg to commemorate the 38th year since Steve Biko was killed. The political parties were the ANC, EFF and the DA.
Ginsberg township is a large residential area situated near King Williams Town which is remembered as the birth place of Steve Biko. Interviews with residents show that Ginsberg shares many economic characteristics of South African townships. These include poverty, unemployment, dusty roads, inadequate housing, limited access to basic necessities as well crime and substance abuse.
A woman from Tsolo section felt that unemployment is now higher than it was at the end of apartheid. According to her she cannot even remember the last time she was employed. A man from Newrest said that the last time he worked was in 2012 when the Steve Biko Foundation building was being constructed. The building lies at the entrance of Ginsberg township.
Another young woman from Happy Rest said the last time she worked was when she was employed by a fibre company. She said many young people are working for this fibre company known as Chief Packaging and its sister company, Dimbaza Fibres. These companies are located on the access road close to the township. She stopped working there because she used to only earn R195 a week and the working conditions were very bad.
Next to Chief Packaging is a huge scrapyard that is supplied by scrap collectors from Ginsberg. A young man said that in the township it is rare to see an empty tin or bottle on the streets because waste pickers are working around the clock. Most of these people who are collecting scrap material abuse drugs and alcohol.
In order to make a living the majority of people in Ginsberg work in the nearby economic city centre of King Williams Town. It is a common sight to see a large group of people walking from Ginsberg to King Williams town every morning and afternoon. The main industries in King Williams Town are big chain supermarkets, and spaza shops that are largely owned by African migrants. Others survive by selling fruit & vegetables, sweets, cigarettes, clothes, cooked food as well as other small items on the street.
Inside the township there are virtually no thriving small businesses or work opportunities except laundry, cleaning and gardening in well off households and areas like the Steve Biko foundation. We were told that the extended public works programme stopped three months after it was launched for reasons unknown. In Ginsberg there are also few households who are involved in farming at the back of the township. They have built their own kraals and have hired people to look after their livestock such as cattle and pigs. Their major concern is water and they are forced to fetch water from their homes.
Despite the fact that over the years there has been massive growth of two-room RDP houses in Ginsberg, residents complain about inadequate housing and overcrowding. There is no huge informal settlement in the township but in areas like Tsolo-Section there are backyard shacks in almost every household. Some of these backyarders have been on the housing waiting list for more than ten years.
The one-room houses in Tsolo, the oldest section of Ginsberg, are in bad shape. Many residents who cannot afford to extend their houses and are blaming the government for making empty promises that their houses will be extended.
Residents are generally not satisfied with the provision of social services with the high cost of electricity being the number one problem. “If you buy electricity for R20, you only receive 6.5 units, said one pensioner. She said last year there was big fight with the Buffalo City Municipality because electricity was blocked for almost all residents. One resident mentioned that there was a big service delivery march in August against the municipality over the lack of housing and dusty roads.
Behind poverty and a lack of basic necessities the scourge of crime, violence and drugs was repeatedly mentioned as a huge concern. “Young people do whatever it takes to find money for drugs” said a young lady at the clinic. They rob people of their cell phones and money, break into houses and attack Somali-owned shops. A man in his 50’s working at the Steve Biko Foundation who grew up in Tsolo under the command of Steve Biko said “If Bra Steve were to observe the crisis of today’s youth, he would definitely cry.”