Scores of residents from the transit camp or the waiting rooms in Marlboro, Ward 109 near Alexandra, say the upcoming local government elections will come and soon be gone like others. They don’t anticipate any changes to their plight as they deem themselves forgotten. Every time during elections, they are told their vote is their voice and it has power. Unfortunately, that hasn’t ever reflected in their material conditions. They were moved from their place of residence to the transit camp as a temporary measure more than ten years ago to make way for the construction of the Pan Africa Mall. Other people were brought there after being displaced as a result of shack fires and Juskei River floods.
This place is called Vezinyawo, which means show your feet in isiZulu, because the initial 580 units of one-room units were said to be so small that your leg would protrude out the structure while you slept. They say it is too hot in summer because there is no ventilation and too cold in winter. “But the so-called political leaders during elections they’ll come and campaign here with straight face and give us another promise,” says one of the residents of this area. She says every time there is a new housing development earmarked to move them to they won’t be prioritised and unqualified people including illegal immigrants will be allocated those houses instead.
Now Vezinyawo has expanded as families have grown and parents want privacy from their kids. Realising they won’t get out of transit anytime soon, they decided to take it upon themselves to make the most out of the place. Others just came to invade as space for residential occupation is so limited in Alexandra and elsewhere. This expansion has severely strained service infrastructure such as water and sanitation, resulting in constant blockage of the drainage system as people have built on top of drains. “My son has even developed sinus [problems] due to the stench coming from this blocked drainage,” says Nthona Chaana, one of the residents of Vezinyawo. Pointing to a spot of the blocked drainage, Chaana says she can’t count how many times she has reported it to the area councillor who kept on promising he would send people to fix the drain. “Well without defending the councillor, let’s remember he was elected just almost half way through this current term due to by-elections after the previous councillor resigned,” says an unidentified resident.
Another resident, Aaron Lebepe says refuse removal at Vezinyawo is another painstaking problem. “There are three big skip bins for more than 5,000 people staying here. They are emptied just three times a week. We think that is not enough for the number of people staying here. We are experiencing serious health hazards such as rat infestation and so on. I’m also a chair of Community Policing Forum (CPF). I can take the whole day telling you about crime here. The number of mob justice [incidents] where the community is fed up because they think police are not doing enough – it’s terrible. There is also a worrying trend in the graveyards where people are just blowing gun shots. I don’t know if there is illegal gun trading or what,” he says. “Ours is a very sad story after the so-called democracy. Now elections are here and there is a rat race, politicians scrambling for votes. Aren’t they feeling ashamed of themselves, coming to the same people they broke promises to last time?”