The eThembeni informal settlement was erected in 1992, before the dawn of our democracy. It was called eThembeni, “place of hope”, because the birth of a new nation, the birth of democracy was inevitable. But today people remain unemployed, living without income in mud houses.
Horizontal to the place of hope, 3km away, another informal settlement stands. It is called Phaphamani, a place of vigilant people. Phaphamani was erected in 1992. In both informal settlements there are no human basic services like electricity and sanitation.
The recent floods in Grahamstown left so many people, in particular in informal settlements homeless. The Unemployed People’s Movement were running up and down helping comrades during the flood. I was deployed in Phaphamani and eThembeni. As the rain was pouring I was with a senior citizen, an old woman who is at her late fifties. The house was just full of water. We were moving furniture to the other room, using buckets to evacuate the water that was threatening to form a swimming pool inside the house. It was so quiet, only sounds of water and our buckets. It was hectic, the whole community was just evacuating water non-stop.
As we were busy, the old woman stopped for a moment, looked at me, a smile crawling out of her mouth. Yet I could see the tears making the way through the corners of the eyelids. I then stopped and stared at her. She made a sound, trying to remove a lump in her throat and finally broke the silence. She said “Vote ANC, Vote for Better Life, Vote for Heaven and Vote for Jesus. Better life in heaven indeed not under ANC”.
I was so overwhelmed with emotions. I felt as if something heavy was placed on my shoulders, the muscles were just contracting and my neck became stiff instantly. I immediately thought of a woman, in her late 50’s as well, whom we buried recently. She was living on the foot of a hill and when the sewerage pipe burst at the hill shit would fill her house. It would take weeks before the pipe was fixed. She died because of TB related diseases. Her story was on SABC, in a report by Nomawethu Solwandle. The officials did nothing. A week after her story was on SABC, she died. How does one go to sleep?
One of our mentors, Professor Pedro Tabensky, a protagonist of Black Consciousness, came to my mind. He says that UPM must resurrect hope in our communities and collectivism. As things are at the moment people have lost hope. It is no wonder that there is such brokenness. Reclaiming hope is the first step to action. Another mentor by the name of Richard Pithouse would also quote Frantz Fanon: “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it.” The time has come for our generation to invent our own politics and to take our own stand. People are struggling and thinking and discussing all over the country. These rivers of struggle will join soon. We are already getting a good sense of the new politics. It is a politics that is firmly in the hands of the people. A politics that begins from our daily lives.
I think hope is important. It was hope that brought the generation of 1976 together. They discovered their mission and they were determined to fulfil it at all costs. Just like the Tsietsi Mashinini generation, we will not betray our mission.
In Makana Municipality, there is a backlog of over 13 000 houses. The RDP house that have been built are crumbling down and people are deserting them. There is an unemployment rate of nearly 70%. This woman in eThembeni forms part of the backlog of 13 000 houses. She forms part of the 70% without work. Because of her age, she is at her late 50’s, she does not qualify for an old age income grant. All that she is, in her country of her birth, is statistics. She is like many South Africans. She matters the most during Statistics South Africa surveys and Elections. Her ID is also a constant reminder that she is a South African.
But a country so rich cannot afford her, being a senior citizen, a house nor a job. She watches helplessly as our municipality can not account for R19 million, the mayor who is indebted to the municipality an amount of not less that R60 000, for dining and wining with the girlfriend. Every time she turns on her radio all she is hearing is the plundering of our resources by the elite, the president who will be taking the next wife to be maintained by the tax payers and his friends with their tenders.
Yes, a country so rich, a country that could afford R70billion to purchase arms deal, not for the nation, for the benefit of the elite, and the nation is not even allowed to get the details of how their money was spent. Yes a country so rich, that it could spend R60billion on hosting a World Cup, when the majority of its senior citizens don’t have a shelter. A country so rich that it can only produce billionaires and millionaires, while the senior citizens are dying because of poverty related diseases. Rushing to take the water out of their shacks in the floods. Rushing for water when their shacks are burning.
There is a simple lack of care for us by those who rule us. To them we are just lazy buds who do want to do anything but expect government to do everything for us. Their perception changes during election time. We matter the most during elections time. After that we must go back to our shacks, to our life without an income.
The better life for all remains a dream. To Christians it is certain that they will enjoy such life in heaven. But we also deserve this life while on earth. God has blessed us with all the riches. However under the ANC this will forever be a dream deferred.
Our main task is to give people hope and to invent a politics that can express that hope. That is what Biko did for his generation. Once people have hope everything else follows. We have to care very carefully for every precious spark of hope that still shines in places like eThembeni and Phaphamani.
Chairperson, Unemployed People’s Movement, Grahamstown
078 625 6462