Bitter taste of Kliptown’s neglect
The fruits of freedom remain elusive for residents of the place where the Freedom Charter was adopted 57 years ago this week, writes Lucas Ledwaba.
At night, Daisy Motaung (74) has a view of the flickering lights from the imposing multimillion-rand Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication near her Kliptown home.
During the day, electric passenger trains run on the railway line adjacent to her house. But Motaung’s house, like all the others in Kliptown, does not have electricity.
Every day she has to join the long queue at the communal tap in the street to get water.
And if she wants to use the toilet, she has to drag herself to one of the communal toilets set up on street corners.
In fact, Kliptown does not look like the site where the historic Freedom Charter was adopted on June 26 1955.
It is one of the oldest urban settlements in Joburg. The yards are crowded with shacks built around old dilapidated houses like the one where Motaung grew up and still lives.
The lack of a proper drainage system has led to rivers of murky water flowing down the untarred streets. Rats reputed to be the size of cats thrive in the filthy surrounds.
At night, knife-wielding tsotsis take over the dark streets, which are made ever darker by smoke emanating from braziers and coal fires.
“It is very dangerous for an old woman like myself to go to the toilet at night,” says Motaung.
Motaung was 17 years old on the day thousands of people gathered at Freedom Square to draft and adopt the Freedom Charter.
“I remember Nelson Mandela was wearing a Stetson hat and a long coat. It was a very cold day.
We carried water in tins across the railway line to give to the people gathered at Freedom Square,” she says.
But Motaung, who was born and raised in Kliptown, is concerned she may never get to taste the fruits of the freedom that was crafted that day.
“Nothing has changed. To us here in Kliptown, we are still waiting. Freedom has still not come,” she says.
“Even the leaders don’t come here any more. They only have their events at that place (Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication) but they never come this side of the railway line to see how we live.
“I have lost hope. I don’t believe that change will ever come to Kliptown. We have been forgotten.”
Motaung has temporarily moved in with relatives in a newer section of Soweto to escape the winter chill in Kliptown.
“It gets very cold and I’m sick. I will not survive without electricity. It breaks my heart to look across the railway line and see that big square while we have nothing.”
On Human Rights Day this year, Motaung was one of those invited to the official commemoration addressed by President Jacob Zuma. She was hoping to get an opportunity to speak to Zuma, but that didn’t happen.
“I wanted to tell him that I want to die in my own proper house. I don’t want to die living like this,” she says.
At Kliptown Square, just across from the squalid conditions near Motaung’s house, stands a block of colourful new flats built by the Johannesburg Social Housing Company.
The flats overlook the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication and the luxury Soweto Hotel where guests have a view of the squalid settlement of Kliptown.
The flats accommodate 478 families who rent them, and are funded through provincial subsidies, national and municipal grant funding, as well as loan funding.
But for pensioners like Motaung and many of Charter Square’s unemployed, the units are not an option.
To qualify, individuals or households need to earn between R1 500 and R7 500 per month.
Daniel Msindo (76) arrived in Kliptown in 1977 and still lives in one of the one-room brick houses built in the early 1900s.
In 1996 he answered the government’s call to apply for an RDP house. Yet to this day all he has to show for it are the application papers he received from the Gauteng department of housing 16 years ago.
His house is on a property surrounded by shacks built close to one another, leaving only narrow passages for people to walk through.
“Children who were born here are old now but nothing changes. They are also having children which is the reason you see all these shacks, because they also have nowhere to go,” says Msindo.
He remembers a time when there were no shacks in Kliptown, just old brick houses, horse stables, a coal yard and stores.
“After Mandela was released from jail, people came here to erect these shacks. But now most of us are wondering why we even voted for the ANC. All we have been getting from them is promises, next week, next year,” he says.
Near Msindo’s Block B home, the whirr of a generator is heard from the shipping containers where Thulani Madondo (30) heads the Kliptown Youth Programme (KYP).
The KYP is a social empowerment movement with more than 400 young people on its books.
It’s been running since 2007 and offers computer literacy classes, after school extra lessons to learners, a candle-making project, sport programmes and an enterprising project to repackage government-issue condoms and distribute them to shebeens.
“The historical significance of Kliptown does not help us. We had to do something in response to the challenges faced by the youth here,” says Madondo.
KYP, which survives on the goodwill of corporate sponsors, serves meals to its 400 members once a day. But this comes at a price. The centre uses at least 15 litres of petrol a day to keep its electricity supply going.
“It hurts because people here know that the amount of money they spend on candles every week is much higher than people in other parts of Soweto spend on electricity,” Madondo says.
“We also ask ourselves why is this happening to us. We have no electricity yet we live just a few metres from a railway station,” he says. And he looks forward to the day the arrival of electricity silences the whirring of the generator and the cries of Kliptown’s poor.