South Africa

Langa, Cape Town: A snapshot of poverty

By GroundUp 19 September 2013

Nowelile Nonkelela stays in a one-room flat with her seven children and three grandsons. The family stays in Old Flats, Langa. Their room is situated in block C on the second floor where there are 20 such rooms. By Pharie Sefali for GROUNDUP.

The flat is old and dark and has broken windows. There is dirt in the corridors of the block. Water from the broken sink and leaking toilet covers the floor. More than 40 people use the same four toilets and most of the time the toilets are dirty or blocked. Two are currently broken. Children and old people, male and female, have to use the same toilets.

Nonkelela is 55 and unemployed, but too young to receive a government pension. Her husband passed away in 2005 due to illness. He did not leave her with any money; he had no insurance policies.

“Since my husband left us with nothing we are suffering as a family. There are days where we sleep with no food in the house. We have to go and ask at the nearby church for a food parcel,” she says.

Her 29-year-old daughter, Thandiswa, did a short course in customer service and telemarketing, but has not found a job. She needs to work. There is no point going back to school, she says.

Simbongile is 20 years old and he is in grade 12. He used to take drugs, but he saw that his home was breaking apart and the family was getting ever poorer. He decided to concentrate on his schoolwork.

“I am good in maths and science. I like school. Maybe one day if I have money, I would study further. But if a door will open for me I would like to do marine studies.

“Sometimes my sister and I go to school hungry since there is no food at home. But we are lucky because there is a feeding scheme. We sometimes share the food we get from school with the children at home.”

Simbongile says that as a male it is hard to get privacy in his home because there are always people around. There is no space for him to study.

A younger sister tried to commit suicide in August by taking an overdose of pills. She was hospitalised for weeks. She is in grade 10.

“It’s hard to dream because I am surrounded by negative people. So what is the point of living?” she asks. “I tried killing myself because I hate being poor and I did not ask for such a life. At school, my friends laugh at me for not having anything. I don’t even have a school bag. When we go on school outings I am always left behind because I have no money.”

The two youngest children, aged four and nine, have tuberculosis (TB). They are on medication, but the family is scared that the TB will spread as they live in a small space, and in winter they have to close the only window.

Nonkelela says she has applied for an RDP house for nearly 20 years and she is still waiting.

The family seeks any kind of help. They lack food and clothing and also need support for high school.

“If anyone out there can provide me or my daughter with a job it will be much appreciated. We need some sort of income,” she says. DM

This story originally appeared on GroundUp and was fact-checked.

Photo: Nowelile Nonkelela and some of her family. (GroundUp)

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