Residents of newly occupied settlements demand basic services

Residents of newly occupied areas in Cape Town marched to the sub-council offices in Khayelitsha demanding basic services. Photo by Vincent Lali

Residents of newly occupied areas in Cape Town struggle to maintain a dignified life without water, electricity and sanitation services.

Scores of aggrieved shack dwellers handed their memorandum of demands on Saturday to Cyril Xaba, the chairperson of a public hearing on amending section 25 of the Constitution held at Thusong Community Centre in Khayelitsha. They sang struggle songs as they toyi-toyied outside the venue.

The Ad-hoc Committee on Land held the hearing to get “public input on how the Constitution should be amended to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation.” Felicia Lombard of the Parliamentary Communications Service said, “The memorandum will be sent to the Department of Human Settlements and the office of the minister.”

The shack dwellers came from newly occupied areas such as Level Two, Covid Village, Ethembeni, Empolweni, Island, Gushindoda, Pandemic and Dubai. Covid Village community leader, Bongile Zanazo, said they are demanding that Parliament push for them to get water, toilets and electricity in their informal settlements.

“We are here to tell authorities that land expropriation must go together with the provision of basic services,” he said. “Ministers must redirect funds from their budgets towards the provision of basic services in newly occupied areas.”

Zanazo said residents of Covid Village defecate in buckets inside their shacks and beside the N2 highway. “Some residents squat and relieve themselves in plastic bags and dig up trenches outside to bury their faeces,” he said. Stepping on a discarded plastic bag that contains human waste is a hazard while walking through the settlement.

Other shack dwellers walk for about forty minutes to relieve themselves in chemical toilets in Site C, Khayelitsha. Zanazo said he has received reports that two women had been raped and robbed of their belongings as they made their way back from Site C recently. He is, with other community activists, trying to track them down to arrange trauma counselling.

Shack dwellers who spoke to Elitsha said they struggle to access water, toilets and electricity in Level Two informal settlement in Khayelitsha.

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“When I do laundry, I walk back and forth between here and nearby RDP houses for about twenty minutes to collect water with a 25-litre container … The walk leaves me drained of energy,” said shack dweller, Ntombekhaya Magoloza. Previously, she rented a shack for R250 a month in Town Two.

Magoloza said she worked as a guard for a monthly stipend of R1,200 under the Khayelitsha Neighbourhood Watch at Khayelitsha Mall until her contract expired in July. She could no longer pay rent after she lost her job and had to find alternative accommodation.

She uses an outside toilet in one of the yards located in Town Two which she cleans with soap and disinfectant she has to buy herself. “I can easily be attacked while I walk in the dark alleys to the toilet at night, so I relieve myself in a bucket and empty it the next morning,” she said.

Magoloza said without a source of income, she battles to buy candles to light up her unelectrified shack, so her relatives buy them for her.

Homes stand empty in Empolweni and Ethembeni after they were flooded with sewage water. Archive photo by Vincent Lali

Pamela Mgadi said she moved from G section in Khayelitsha to Level Two about three months ago. “I lost my job as a distributor of Herbalife products, so I could not pay rent. My clients were broke because they could not work during the lockdown period,” she said.

Mgadi said she hires youngsters to collect water and bring it to her with trolleys. “I’m not used to walking while balancing a water container on my head, so I ask the youngsters to bring me the water,” she said.

She uses a paraffin lamp to light her shack and a gas stove to cook. For sanitation, she walks to her former landlord’s place in G section to relieve herself every day.

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Community leader in Level Two, Mabhelandile Twani, pointed out the indignity of living without sanitation services and the consequent loss of privacy. “You cover yourself with a blanket so that the residents can’t see who you are,” he said.

Absence of water makes it difficult for the shack dwellers to clean their shacks and wash their clothes and bodies. Twani said: “We sometimes go for days without taking a bath in Level Two.”

The shack dwellers are planning on scraping the money together to buy water pipes to connect to the municipal water supply. “We don’t want to make illegal electric connections because they are dangerous, but we have no other option,” Twani said.

The Friday before the public hearing on land, hundreds of angry land occupiers marched to the City of Cape Town offices in Khayelitsha on Friday to demand that they be provided with water, electricity and toilets. They met senior sub-council officials at Khayelitsha Training Centre, where they discussed their demands.

Sub-council 10 manager, Mandlenkosi Sithonga, said he has referred land occupiers’ demands for basic services to the city several times. They have been coming to his office to demand basic services since August this year, he said. “I have been forwarding demands to the city each time they came, but… I have not even received a response acknowledging the receipt of my email.”

Sithonga said he would nevertheless direct the demonstrators’ demands to the city today.

That their land occupation was still a matter before the courts causes delays in the provision of basic services to their new settlements, said sub-council chairperson Patrick Mngxunyeni. He said: “I will follow up with the city and find out what exactly keeps the city from providing basic services in your areas.”

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