It’s a hard life for women in Silvertown

Women have to walk long distances to fetch water from the taps that are located on the periphery of the settlement. All photos by Lilita Gcwabe

Silvertown’s water supply quadrupled thanks to covid-19 with the installation of three taps.

Community leaders in Silvertown informal settlement near Malmesbury in the Western Cape say that women bear the brunt of the lack of services in the informal settlement. The area has limited access to water and there is no electricity. On a recent visit, Elitsha came across several women walking back to their homes with buckets on their heads. They relayed stories of how they have to fetch wood from the nearby veld for cooking.

“There are three taps and a water tank at the moment and that is due to covid-19, but before that we only had one tap. The limited services to water are on the periphery of the informal settlement. Women have to walk long distances to fetch water,” said community leader, Nozuko Goniwe. In her estimation there are over 4,000 households in the area.

A 20-year-old resident walking from the tap, which is over a kilometre from her house, said that even in her home village near Blantyre in Malawi they don’t walk such long distances to fetch water. With the help of a translator, the unemployed woman said that her husband works as a seasonal pig and sheep herder at a nearby farm.

Another resident and mother of four said that she got a small cart so that she can load at least four 20-litre buckets. “I have to fetch water this way and it’s the same with wood. Sometimes we use a gas stove but because it is expensive, and I’m not working at the moment, I have to collect wood,” said Nomgcobo Mbhele.

“Because there are no schools here, most parents have to fork out money for transport but some schools provide transport for learners like my child’s school,” Mbhele said.

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The need to charge your cell phone is a business opportunity where there is no electricity.

There are no sanitation services in the area and as a result most houses have pit toilets. “For those who don’t have pit toilets they have to relieve themselves in the bush. This is not safe for women as we can get raped or killed,” said Goniwe.

The community occupied the piece of land near Chartsworth in the Swartland Municipality in 2014. According to the municipality, the land belongs to Cape Lifestyle Investments, a private company, that “during the course of 2014 –  instituted a lawsuit for the eviction of the illegal squatters who initially started out as 52 households, but now by far exceed this number. The Municipality was joined in the matter as a respondent, which matter has to date not been finalised by the courts and is therefore still sub judice,” said municipal manager, Joggie Scholtz.

There are no schools in the area and learners have to go to schools in Malmesbury

The informal settlement made headlines when in May and June this year, the community took to the streets demanding the provision of services and infrastructure. The Swartland Municipality, according to community leader, Siziphiwe Xhinti, responded by calling the police who were violent against them. GroundUp reported residents’ complaints of police using excessive force, teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. “We were having a meeting as a community and they asked us to disperse and shot at us. Previously, the police would not come inside the area but during those protests they would come into the community and unleash violence indiscriminately. There was a baby of three or four months at the time who needed medical help after they threw teargas into the baby’s yard. Even those who were not protesting were caught up in the police violence,” said Xhinti.

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He says that they are still harassed by the municipality’s law enforcement officers as they get asked their destination when crossing the road to collect wood or to relieve themselves. According to Stephen Maciko from Housing Assembly, an organisation that has been assisting the residents with education around their rights, the harassment started after it was agreed in a community meeting to occupy adjacent land.

Goniwe said that they have had several meetings with the municipality and other stakeholders to discuss the issue of land but the last meeting they were supposed to have was cancelled at the last minute. The municipal manager, Joggie Scholtz, denied responsibility telling Elitsha that the meeting was cancelled by the Department of Human Settlements.

“We will continue to demand services and we are not deterred by the violence from the police and the municipality. We will stop the day they provide good quality services to us,” said Goniwe.

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