Christmas is around the corner and many of us like the slogan “Sharing is caring!” How honest are we about it? How many of us have forgotten already the floods in Masiphumelele, only weeks ago, with thousands of children exposed to the most horrible disasters? How many of us share the concern of parents in Ocean View about the exposure of their children to drugs and gangs?
Please allow me to share some thoughts on how all of us together as ordinary citizens and neighbors in our valley can turn around the growing dangers of more and more social unrest or the rise of authoritarian parties like Malema’s EFF, especially among the township youth. These thoughts are not based on any party political affiliation, but only on my professional background as a historian and practical experiences as a volunteer in the fields of health and housing in Masiphumelele for more than a decade.
It is no accident or error that South Africa, despite the early ANC slogan “A better life for all!” has become Number One of unequal societies worldwide. This abstract term does not carry the real pain of those millions who are still hungry and exploited – and also not the fear of the wealthy ones (and as we know this is not only a matter of skin color anymore) who focus on the security of their property more than anything else. What does it say about a president who needs an R 200 million security upgrade on his Nkandla estate while preaching the fight against poverty?
Charity is just not enough anymore. Don’t get me wrong: Of course, disaster relief with blankets and food parcels is needed, again and again. But what is needed more: proper housing in a scheme which lifts people out of poverty forever. If we provide disaster relief, let us please call it exactly this, but let us not feel better about it unless we work at the same time for a mutual respectful cooperation in sharing.
In Masiphumelele, after in 2006 a fire had destroyed 400 shacks in one night, some residents refused the government “starter kits” (a few poles, a plastic sheet and nails). They did not toyi-toyi for better housing, but they planned on how to house 400 families on this small piece of land, hardly bigger than two soccer fields.
The first support came from a retired architect, Fish Hoek resident John Shaw. He created an idea for the first blocks of flats in this community which was embraced by about 350 out of the 400 families. So far, 232 two room flats with solar heated water have been built – together with a community hall.
And here comes the good news for 2014:
The Amakhaya ngoku (“Homes now”) housing project aims to complete the construction of the final 120 flats for those families who are still waiting on an open TRA field. Already in January 2014 the construction of a park and playground will commence to create a healthy environment for all residents.
But to build all these 120 flats we still need private donor funding to match the 50 percent government subsidy. Like in the first phase of construction, more than 95 percent of the private funding comes so far from overseas. Most of these overseas donors question why South Africans with resources do not contribute substantially, but only charity-style so far. In fact, again almost R 4 million has been committed from the UK and Germany on condition that the same amount will be raised by our South African neighbors. Impossible? Let’s see.
Let us make no mistake: Where hope is fading, populism is rife. Malema’s EFF is getting much support, especially among the youth, because it appeals to their need of visible change. Also in Masiphumelele, I meet more and more young people who “like” Juju, because he also was once poor. A rural boy raised by his Gogo – and look at him now!
Please do not get me wrong also on this one: Of course, Malema is not “left” and not even “radical” despite his talk of nationalization of mines, but a “Commander in chief” who clearly does not go for democracy, but for an authoritarian dictatorship (he will be “ready to kill” as he offered already to Jacob Zuma when they were still friends). If you read statements of eyewitnesses before the rise of the Nazi party in Germany in the early 1930’s, especially among young people, you will find striking similarities in voiced support for the new Fuehrer (leader).
Back to Masiphumelele: Fifteen years ago about 15.000 people lived in the same area which houses 40.000 today. There is not one square meter of land left, but about 10.000 residents have squeezed themselves into the Wetlands, which is flooded every winter. Also, there is still only one access road like in Apartheid times which causes huge stress when emergency vehicles try to get in and out during disasters. Despite our excellent Masiphumelele High School, most of the youth are unemployed and desperately looking for jobs. Many of them will be first time voters. Don’t say after the next election you did not know.
But there is hope: Next to the Masi NGO Forum (where all NGO’s coordinate their efforts), some neighbors from the communities around Masiphumelele have formed a group called ubuMelwane (Neighborhood) and have met together with Masi activists. They learned why other neighbors are fiercely against any second access road or why all official “land audits” claim that vacant land is either “privately owned” or if owned by the city “is not feasible for housing”. It probably will never be made feasible unless enough people speak out for it. Fortunately, more and more people become aware and will learn to share – to create peace and prosperity for all in our valley.