Well draw up a chair. Light a cigarette and take a deep breath. This Blog wont be a pretty read… and its nothing new and its been done before, but forgive me if I do it again.
Once, back in the 1970’s I had the mis-fortune ( yes, that’s the right word) to work with some South Africans. Both white ladies and both ex Brits who had gone out there twenty years before and returned when things got “sticky”. By the mid 1970’s the Group Areas ( Removal) Act was well under way. The white man began to sleep with bars and fortified houses and buses were noted by who they carried as opposed to their destination.
I remember being quite young and very naïve about the situation ( after all it was so very far away..) and hearing them say it was quite appropriate for the Blacks to use a separate Bus and if they didn’t employ them for a few Rand a day, who else would? They even argued that the Black community needed the White community to feed and clothe them. Thankfully, we have moved on somewhat…or have we?
I cant keep being cross about the housing situation in South Africa, or can I? When I go there I usually stay in a delightful and very colonial place called Simon’s Town. Home of the Navy, or at least the Navy dockyard, it has a very British feel. Its all rather pleasant and pretty and everyone has time for a chat. Tourists keep the place buoyant, which is just as well when you remember that the Town, almost overnight, lost a good majority of its population when the Group Removal Act came into force.
The one thing in Simons Town favour and more particularly the Mayor at the time, was that almost without exception, everyone in that town voted for the Black and Coloured people to stay. Petitions were drawn up; Acts ignored but in the end it was fruitless. People who had made the town their home were suddenly miles away. Without cars, it was impossible to get there each day to work. Public Transport was scant, if at all. Schools who had happily taught all colours were suddenly two thirds empty and the remaining scholars were white. Fishermen who used to sell their catch on the Dock had gone; Cape Malays who had farmed in the area for generations had lost their home; their stock and their means of earning a living. No one won…not even the “Yarpie!” ( slang term for White Afrikaners)
However Simon’s Town has a name for being one of the safer neighbourhoods in The Cape and this is put down to the fact that all of the residents fought tooth and nail to keep all “locals” there. It would appear that on the whole, Black and Coloured people don’t bear a grudge towards the white man here ( fuck knows why! ) and both seem to help each other. Its just a nice place to be and it all centred on the fight to keep the community together all that time ago. Its still a bit odd though. Young people matured and moved away. Black and Coloureds only return to work. The old (white) folks of the Town… and that’s all that is left now… walk along the beach each day and meet and drink coffee. A lot of White Rhodesians having scarpered over the Border have settled here. Most bemoaning their lot and living in reduced circumstances. Their Black Zimbabwean neighbours having followed them, settled in Red Hill. No black faces here… almost like a Whites Only Club. When will they learn?
The Ex Pats still thinking they are living in Happy Valley and having a Gin Sling.
Meanwhile over on the Beach, the Black kids make a living looking for sharks and putting out shark nets each day. The net bordered the whole beach and took ages to drag in at the end of each day….but at least the Whites can swim safely.
How easily would you see a shark coming to you in these waves?
It was their final task of the day to drag the nets in and put them away
However, there was an area called Red Hill and this was one of the many coloured areas. It was very hard to define ” coloured” in those days and when you look at the photographs in the Link below you would easily think ” white”. When it was earmarked for ” so called” development, people were moved on to another area and their homes ( many of them humble but secure brick farmsteads) were demolished. Forty odd years later, the land is still undeveloped and many say it was a ploy to forcibly removed all Black and Coloured People from the area. You can read more about it on the link below and it has some rather interesting photographs. Please note this was the original “Red Hill” and as you will see, in a better state of repair than the one now called Red Hill. It was a community, not a Township. The informal settlement of which I am now writing is actually over the mountain top
Now it is what they call an ” informal settlement” or a Township, although it is fairly small by Township standards. Its quiet and self policing. Its poor. Its desperate. Its filthy. Its overcrowded. But it also has a huge sense of community ; of real hope for a better tomorrow and a resignation that this is ” their lot” so just get on with it. I spoke with this lady. Look at her eyes.
Each time I look at this picture I see something different. Hurt; desperation; confusion; pain. She looks after 22 children every day. 22 children under 4 years of age whilst their parents go out to work. She does this with the help of one young girl and not a lot else. Her shack is 2 rooms. The back room where she lives and cooks. The front room is her bedroom. In the day it is converted to her Nursery. Can you imagine what she does when it rains and she has 22 children in there, including 5 or 6 babies who don’t have a cot, so she sleeps them widthways on her bed.
I asked her when she could expect some sort of permanent housing. She tells me, without any malice, that she has been waiting 20 years, so maybe some day soon! She doesn’t complain. Who can she complain to? There are too many people like her. You truly are pissing into the wind if you think building a few thousand small single story houses is knocking any fraction off the housing situation
When we went there we took some supplies. When we arrived and got out of the car she looked at me. ” I have been blessed by God, ” was all she said. It made me cry. She didn’t want my tears and I hurriedly wiped them away. How can you believe in God if he allows you to live like that? But she did….. She was just grateful that someone had brought her some nappies; some Vaseline and those all important wet wipes. We added to the list a sack of maize so that she could make some stew and soup for the children to have a hot lunch each day. She looked at me and said she would make a huge stew for all of her neighbours to share this weekend. That is what I mean, a real community. What they don’t have in material things, they have shedloads of in terms of what is important. ” Love thy neighbour and share and share alike” On her list she asked for wet wipes. I admit to being a bit surprised thinking them somewhat of a luxury. She explained they didn’t have any running water. Someone had cut the water supply six weeks ago to sell the piping and no one had been to them to reconnect the water with new piping. So the only water these people have, is what they carry home on their heads, or by walking to the standpipe at the entrance to the Settlement, just off the main road. Wet Wipes meant she could at least clean the babies’ bottoms. She also said that she was looking after 2 babies who were sick. She didn’t have any paracetamol or anything like it to give them to soothe their temperatures. It was hot inside and out. Flies hovered around them and slept alongside the babies. Right outside her shack ( please don’t think I am being disrespectful, its the term they use for their home) were two chemical toilets. Almost full. No shelter; no privacy. If you wanted to use it, you did so in full view of the community. I asked what she did. She said the kids used it, but she tries to wait until she can go to the Town….its more private!
I glanced across and saw a Clinic. Upon closer inspection I saw it was closed and stripped bare. “Its been closed for 2 years now. We used to get a Nurse every Saturday but they closed it and we have to walk now to Ocean View ( another Township but more established with shops and a school) if we want the doctor. She looked at me as if I had a magic wand. I looked at the floor, suddenly mindful of the dreadful imbalance.
I didn’t outstay my welcome. The kids are curious about ” white people” but already know not to bite the hand that visits them. The adults go about their daily business; acknowledge you politely but nothing more. They probably think another white person come to look; stare; gasp and then go away.
I left there determined to try to help. I returned to the Office and galvanised staff into action. We are trying to raise 2000 GBP to prepare a porch and a concrete path around the Nursery before the rain comes.
You can see from the picture that the road outside is mud. The kids play in the mud and the dirty carpet is the only thing that stops the dust coming into the shack. You can imagine, it doesn’t really do anything and when it rains, it becomes a soggy mass of fibre. The concrete path will enable them to walk without getting filthy and the porch will keep some of them dry when they are forced to sit outside and eat. I already have 5 people pledged to go there in June and do the work. I just need to raise the money for the materials
We are contacting pharmaceutical giants to ask them to donate a basic First Aid Box. They don’t have a Clinic but we are trying to get them a Medical Box of bandages; aspirin; TCP and things like that. Even these basic things will stop the 45 minute walk to Ocean View.
And our Volunteering Project for University Kids means they will go there for up to 2 months and help the kids speak English. Their language is Xhosa and is spoken when at home. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xhosa_language
Although they can speak English, its their second language and is often stilted . If you cant speak English, schooling is hard. The school in Simons Town now is 80% black. We went to meet the Headmistress as we wanted to send some European kids there. She was bemused by this request! She has been one of the children removed from the area in the 1970’s and she returns as Headmistress to a school she was once removed from. Ironical, eh? Its true to say there is an element of “ fuck you” in her but this makes me like her all the more.
What she has achieved with those kids in that school is nothing short of a miracle. The Pass rate is now 97%. She has encouraged them all to achieve things and points at the disadvantage she had when she was younger. The conversation with her gave me hope and we decided to send our ” rich white European kids there” for an African experience. We both exchanged a look. I don’t think for one minute they will be unsafe but I do think it will be a wonderful lesson in life. Their parents, surprisingly agreed with me. Interestingly, all kids have to wear a Uniform and if you don’t have the Uniform, you cant attend school. That’s right across the board. So what do you choose? Food for your family or school uniform so you can educate your child. What a Catch 22 situation?
Although it is fair to say that there are now local Charities which raise money so that black kids can have a uniform to go to school. Otherwise the cycle would never end. No education…no progression.
Simons Town’s hope for the future!
On a final dismal note to this rather depressing Dispatch and one which may help you understand why I feel so useless as well as so angry, I said to the lady at the Nursery…
” Have you thought about asking the Supermarkets to give you the food they throw out each day”
“Yes, but I have to register as a Charity before they give me any food, although they know we live here”
” Can I help you do this” I asked,
“No. we tried” she replied
” We cant register as a Charity whilst we are in an informal settlement. We have to wait until we are in permanent housing. We have waited 20 years, it cant be long now”
So the crux of this conversation was that the local government and huge supermarket giants know these people are hungry. They know they need the food. They know this informal settlement has been in existence for more than 25 years and yet because no one will acknowledge its presence, the red tape means they will continue to go hungry and Supermarkets will continue to throw food out in front of their eyes. So she continues to wait until they are re-housed and she can then register as a Charity, until then, as Marie Antoinette would have said ” let them eat cake”
Meanwhile back at the Beach.. no longer for Whites only, but during all my morning walks, I didn’t see one face other than a white one use it. The answer is easy of course, the Beach is in a wealthy white area and difficult for Black and Coloured people to access. Its a strange sort of inequality and part of the division is still there.
South Africa is a beautiful stunning country with some of the most vibrant and engaging people I have met. During all my times I have been there, not once have I encountered malice; rudeness or indifference from Black or Coloureds. Only courtesy; helpfulness and a smile. As you can imagine, with the Whites, they have an imperious streak of their own making. Maybe that is unfair, many are pleasant and friendly it is true. And many do their best to raise awareness and funds, but I cant understand why change doesn’t move faster and how most White people can sleep at night. If nothing else, its downright embarrassing.
As I was told I don’t live there and I don’t know the Policy! But what I do know is what is right and what isn’t… and currently…. Red Hill isn’t…
I make no apology for my feelings….. sleep well !