We often hear of service delivery protests in South Africa and for many; they are little more than an inconvenience to the rest of us- creating unnecessary strife and disorder in the country. How many of us take the time to really get to know what these protests are really about and the context that those who live in these communities are forced to live in?
Joe Slovo, a squatter camp based in North-West Johannesburg on the edge of the suburbs of Coronation and Crosby is one of the many communities that have been let down, not only by government; but by us as civil society and even the media too. The squatter camp, now in existence for 18 years was formed on land owned by Transnet, which agreed to this when approached by the first settlers there.
Over and above the many problems experienced in the area, devastating fires have been one of the greatest concerns. On the 2nd July 2001, the area burned down as a result of one man’s substance abuse induced carelessness, leaving many in the community with nothing, but the clothes they were in and in utter devastation. It then emerged that many a time, domestic violence, which more often than not can be attributed to substance abuse was one of the causes of the fires in homes- as husbands were known to kick paraffin stoves when angry and even push their partners over water in imbaula. Whilst the community was still recovering from this, another fire struck in the only the following month. Another devastating fire struck again in 2003, with no help from disaster management, as no official investigation was conducted into the cause of the fire. And even more recently, in the last two months, many in the community once again lost it all as yet another fire- believed to have been caused by illegal electrical connections- ravaged the camp. One of the main reasons that these fires cause so much damage is that the shacks, which are so close to each other, create an environment suitable for run away fires and even hinder attempts to put the fires out- as the space is too small for the fire trucks to enter the village, amongst other dangers.
Over and above the need to constantly be starting afresh with their lives, due to these terrible fires, problems in the community include:
– Substance abuse,
– Illegal electricity,
– Illegal taverns and shebeens,
– A lack of adequate sanitation,
During an interview with community members, one of whom is one of the longest staying residents; alarming allegations were made about poor service received from the SAPS meant to service them; their former Councillor and many others in government, who were meant to assist them. One of the community members present even went as far as saying that perhaps trashing the streets and burning tyres is the only option left to them, as all other attempts to reach out have yielded no results.
A walk through the squatter camp shows conditions that no human being should ever have to live in and which go against our very Bill of Rights. However, the story of this community is nothing unique. It is a phenomenon that can be witnessed in many other marginalised areas all across the country, yet more often than not, these stories continue to go untold and some in the same country remain oblivious to the conditions which spur on the many protests that can be witnessed in our country from time to time. Many continue to ignore the dangerous conditions forced on some and which lead to needless tragedy and heartbreak, as experienced by those who have lost and will continue to lose their loved ones and all they own to these horrific flames. How long will this be allowed to continue? How long will we continue to sit back in silence, allowing the cries of our fellow countrymen to go unheard?
Without a doubt, the silence of government can be written off to incompetence and/or corruption, but what about the silence of the media- ‘the watchdogs of democracy’ a.k.a ‘the voice of the voiceless’ and that of civil society? What about all of us, citizens of South Africa who also remain silent about this grave injustice happening to or fellow human beings…