In a tented limbo, 70 families wait ... and wait ... and wait ...
Evicted from a Joburg block over a year ago, they were promised new homes, but the promises remain unfulfilled
For over a year displaced families have been forced to call two huge marquee tents home. A very full home at that, as up to 30 families share a tent. Pitched on the dusty, disused Wembley Stadium in Turffontein south of Johannesburg, it was going to be temporary lodgings while Joburg Metro tried to find alternative accommodation for them.
But this past Friday the city missed the deadline to move the former residents of Fattis Mansions in the CBD to better accommodation. They were evicted from Fattis Mansions, once a fashionable 12-storey block of flats that has in recent years fallen into complete ruin. The now-condemned building comprised 195 units – 177 flats and the rest shops and garages.
Community leader Albert Zulu, who left KwaZulu-Natal for Joburg in the hope of better jobs prospects, recalls how cold it was the day they were removed from Fattis Mansions.
“It was a very cold winter, also when the Red Ants evicted us,” he says from his shared tent dwelling. The tent flaps, already showing wear and tear, provide scant protection from the natural – and criminal – elements.Now it’s winter again, and they find themselves still in a desolate place. In fact, Zulu is beginning to lose hope that they will ever leave this place.
Zulu was with the 70 families evicted from Fattis Mansions in June 2017.
The city was then ordered by the Constitutional Court to provide alternative accommodation for the evictees.
A year later, Times Select drives up the dusty road leading to the sports field.
Outside the two tents, people sit in groups, talking. Around them young kids are playing. Their smiles quickly make way for frowns at the sight of strangers.
Nhlanhla Mabuza (33), a mother of four, shows how thin curtains subdivide space for the close to 30 families sharing her tent. The makeshift corridors are narrow, only allowing for one person at a time to shuffle along.The curtains are so thin, one can see the cramped living conditions through them – stacked boxes, worn suitcases, basins for washing, containers for water, mattresses, sometimes a bed. One cannot ignore the fusion of paraffin, dirt and bath-water smells.
Mabuza, originally from Mpumalanga, says she came to Joburg after she lost both her parents. Her family survives on the social grants they receive.
She describes the living arrangements in the tents as inhumane and not conducive for children.
“Our kids are sick. My first born was diagnosed with asthma. They are exposed to drugs and criminal activities,” she said.
Residents say the city is not providing clean running water, electricity or proper toilets.
“We rely on candles, fire and Jojo tanks to survive this cold winter,” Mabuza added.
To cook, some residents use paraffin stoves while the majority build fires and use empty baby formula cans as cooking containers.
“The children go to school, but teachers are not happy with their performance. The older ones both failed last year,” Mabuza says, and starts to cry softly.There was a glimmer of hope when the city delivered several containers designed to serve as mobile homes around November 2017, TimesLIVE reported.
Speaking to GroundUp, City of Johannesburg spokesperson Omogolo Taunyane said the delay in providing alternative accommodation was caused by the city’s housing backlog.
“The city is aware of the dire circumstances under which evictees continue to live in at Wembley Stadium. It is unfortunate that the city’s housing crisis has such harsh ramifications on our most indigent residents,” said Taunyane.
The residents were expected to move to the new units on May 31 2018, but that did not happen.Andisiwe Siphofane is a 28-year-old unemployed mother of one. She hails from the Free State. Like many others in the tent, she came to Gauteng to seek job opportunities.
Describing the living conditions as “mostly traumatic” for children, Siphofane said she no longer believes that they’ll ever be moved.
“The situation is bad, as you can see for yourself. Kids go in and out of hospitals, and some of them are even disabled,” she said pointing to a wheelchair-bound child.
Responding to how privacy is maintained in the tent, she just laughed. “Privacy does not exist here, and we’ve made peace with that,” she said, walking away.
Following a long tour around the stadium, Zulu express more discontent with the municipality. “No human being with power can allow people to live in such conditions.”He added that he was considering returning to KZN because his health was compromised by the living conditions. But he feels honour-bound to helps others forced to live like him.
“Each time I think of leaving I feel bad. God might punish me if I abandon these people. This is why I feel the need to continue with this fight,” he says.
Director of litigation at the Socio-Economic Institute Nomzamo Zondo, who is assisting the residents, said she was not aware of a new deadline being set for the relocation.
“The City of Johannesburg is in contempt of a court order, and yet have not communicated with us,” she said.Bubu Xuba, Metro spokesperson for housing, was also unable to provide an exact date. “But we are working towards ensuring that in the next few weeks people will be allocated,” she said.
“The project faced some challenges that had pushed back our schedule for allocations but we are even working overtime to ensure that the project gets back on track,” she said in a statement.
However, when Times Select visited the site on Wednesday, there was no sign of construction work. Residents on Thursday also confirmed that there were no people working on the site.
So the waiting starts again. In fact, it has never stopped.