Langa Old Flats residents decry poor conditions of flats

Water and faeces pour out of pipes at the side of the building. Photo by Mzi Velapi

South Africa will be celebrating Human Rights Day on Wednesday but Langa Old Flats residents feel that their rights and dignity are being undermined.

Langa, Cape Town, South Africa

With just two days before Human Rights Day, residents of Old Flats in Langa complain that they live under inhuman conditions and their right to dignity is being trampled upon. On the 31st of March 1960, three people were killed and 26 were injured in Langa after the police shot at protesters against the notorious pass laws.

In an interview with Elitsha,  residents of different blocks shared their living conditions and how they are neglected by the City of Cape Town. Built in 1944 as single sex hostels for migrant workers, the Old Flats are now inhabited by families.

“I moved in here in 1994 after my father left for the Eastern Cape. Before that I was staying Kwa Khikhi in Gugulethu. I stay with my husband and children,” said Nozuko Gcumisa who stays in D-Block.

The 48-year-old unemployed mother of three complained that the flats are not well maintained by the City. There are several of these multi-storey blocks with small apartments. “Our apartments are so small that when I buy a carpet I only buy 5 metres,” said Gcumisa.

The small apartments were for two single men. On Gcumisa’s floor there are 33 of these apartments. The hallways are dark as the lights are not working.“We don’t leave the doors or burglar bars open here because amapharaphara (drugged thugs) can pounce on you at anytime,” she said as she locked the security gate and closed the door. This was quite odd given that she was letting a strange man into her house while alone.

Nozuko Gcumisa inside her apartment. The photographer stood in the hallway to take this picture. Photo by Mzi Velapi

“The City does little or no maintenance of the flats. We used to have someone who cleans the hallways but that stopped in December and we were told that the City does not have money anymore. We now volunteer to clean the hallways and the toilets,” said Gcumisa.

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Her views were echoed by Mzonke Sijila from a block across the road. Sijila said that the response by the City to maintenance issues is too slow. “It takes four months for them to respond to an issue.”

The flats have communal toilets with broken pipes. Outside Sijila’s block, water and faeces pour out of pipes. The communal showers do not have doors. When Elitsha went to Sijila’s block we met Lennox Funda who was bathing in the showers. He was standing naked in a plastic bath, his hand over his private parts in a scene reminiscent of the apartheid prison. He explained: “The showers have no doors and as men we can’t take baths inside the apartments. We have to come here to bath.”

The City confirmed that it collects a rent of R20-a-month per bed. “When it comes to refuse collection, we have a refuse area. It is not clear whether they collect the rubbish or not because the refuse area is always littered,” complained Sijila.

DaGama Mngqibisa is an 88-year-old Pan African Congress veteran who was imprisoned for seven years on Robben Island. He moved to the Old Flats in 1952 and said that residents played a huge role in the struggle against apartheid.

He decried the situation at the Flats. “The conditions that we live under here are inhumane and the situation is getting worse and worse.”

Nozuko told Elitsha there were plans to extend the flats by merging two apartments but because the City did not provide alternative accommodation the residents refused. Their trust in the authorities is very low with the flagship N2 Gateway project by the Department of Human Settlements popularly seen as a ploy to make it appear to those passing by on the highway that the government is delivering houses.

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Communal toilet in D Block. Photo by Mzi Velapi

In October 2016, Langa Hostel residents took to the streets demanding houses from the City of Town. Their situation is no different from those who stay at the Old Flats. The hostels were built as dormitories for black migrant workers.

“Some of us who were in Robben Island are good with rhetoric, [but] we have failed our people,” said Mngqibisa.

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