Pelican Park is a sprawling coloured community that houses both informal settlers and RDP residents. The shacks and houses lie side-by-side, suggesting change and betterment, and the continual wait for proper housing. Since 1994, some groups of South Africans have experienced upward mobility, but coloured people living in Pelican Park believe change has yet to come. By Ra’eesa Pather for SOUTH AFRICA VOTES 2014.
The Pelican Park informal settlement has existed for two years. Its residents previously lived in an area of bush where RDP houses have now been built, yet still they have no homes.
“I’ve lived in Pelican Park for 37 years. We’ve been squatting in this area for two years now. I built this camp, and I won’t move until I see that everyone who’s lived with me all these years has their own houses,” said Brian Collins, a 54-year-old settler.
Collins stands in an enclosed area outside his shack. Clothing hangs from the ceiling, while teeming plastic bags balloon up behind him. Inside, his shack is a narrow, cramped space brimming with discarded clothing and necessities. For Collins, the living conditions of poor coloured people remain unchanged, but still he believes that help is available.
Photo: Brian Collins (Ra’eesa Pather)
“Things aren’t better for coloured people: they’re worse. There is help, but if people don’t get up, they won’t get it,” Collins explained.
Despite his willingness to find assistance, Collins feels that his community is largely overlooked.
“Government doesn’t come here; we don’t even know what the name of our squatter camp is,” Collins said.
The shacks are jaggedly curved around an open patch of sandy land where bits of rubbish are strewn. The smell of burning wood wafts around the area – there is no electricity here.
Photo: Pelikan Park’s informal settlement (Ra’eesa Pather)
“We suffer because we don’t have wood,” said 36-year-old Shaleen September. “We must go [and] look for wood and then they say we [are] going to steal.”
“If my child says she’s hungry, I must first go [and] fetch a few pieces of wood to make her something to eat,” said Sherna Jacobs, a 25-year-year old resident.
For Jacobs, her voice as a coloured Capetonian has been ignored by government officials who refuse to listen.
“Look how we live. They don’t care about us; they [are] more worried about the blacks and the whites,” Jacobs said.
Photo: Sherna Jacobs (Ra’eesa Pather)
Gloria van Zyl stands beside Jacobs, with her daughter perched on her hip. At 21 years old, Van Zyl does not believe she will receive a house and her primary concern is her children. Her eldest daughter attended school in Lotus River, but has not been in class for the past month. According to Van Zyl, it’s “too far to walk” and there is no alternative transport.
“It’s not nice living like this. It’s not easy raising kids here. By living here, their future won’t get better,” Van Zyl said.
According to figures released by the Institute for Security Studies, South Africa experiences five protests a day. It is difficult to pinpoint the racial demographic of demonstrators, but shack dwellers in Pelican Park believe that coloured people are not doing enough to drive change.
“If coloured people stand up for themselves government will notice us, but coloured people just pull each other down. That’s our weak point – we don’t want to see each other prosper. There’s no unity,” Jacobs argues.
According to the 2011 Census, coloured people formed 49.6% of the population in the Western Cape. The 2011 General Household Survey found that 98,000 coloured, Asian/Indian, and white people were based in informal dwellings. The country is on the brink of elections, but Pelican Park’s informal settlers are disillusioned.
“Now with the elections they make promises, they come to the poor, but afterwards nobody will come here,” Collins said.
Jacobs registered to vote for the first time this year, but her optimism has dwindled.
“The Democratic Alliance (DA) don’t come here or take note of us, but we are also voters. After the vote they just going to ignore us, so why should we vote?” she asked. “These RDP houses weren’t even built here – it was an open field that time. We go every week to the housing offices; every time we get stupid answers.”
The RDP houses now form a community known as New Horizon Pelican Park. Two thousand residents occupy the area, and many of them moved into their new homes from informal settlements.
“I came from Zille-Raine Heights, an informal settlement. The only change for me, living here, is that I’ve got ablution, because for nine years I’ve been sitting on the bucket system,” said Laylah Ryklief, a former member of the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign.
Although Ryklief now lives with a solid roof over her head, she remains dissatisfied with her living conditions.
“We are grateful for what we’ve got, but, I mean, the condition of the houses is not good. There’s no gutter, there’s no geysers, the plumbing is bad, and this is supposed to be a R95,000 subsidy,” Ryklief explained.
Photo: Laylah Ryklief (Ra’eesa Pather)
The RDP houses form a maze of homogeneous buildings around Pelican Park. Near the entrance, the first few rows of houses are still being built. The roads are clean and the houses neatly lined – a stark contrast to the shacks that sit a few metres away. But discontent looms.
“I’ve been here for five months. Before, I lived in Lotus River as a backyard dweller. To live here, it’s worse. The environment there was different to here,” said Alma Crombie, a 57-year-old resident.
Crombie claims the houses are poorly constructed with weak flooring and a non-existent gutter system that allows water to flow into the houses on rainy days.
Alongside their concerns for their homes, the community is also wary of drugs and the gangsters who are beginning to enter their neighbourhood.
“It’s gangsters moving out of gangster towns and moving in here. We’ve got a neighbourhood watch trying to operate so that nothing should happen,” Ryklief explained.
Gangsterism has plagued Cape Town’s coloured communities, with large areas of the Cape Flats facing near-constant gang violence. Although the RDP houses have been occupied for less than a year, Pelican Park is already at risk.
“People came here with gangsters from Parkwood and Lavender Hill,” said Sam Adonis, a member of the neighbourhood watch. “The drugs are starting to come in here now, but we are monitoring it. A lot of people are buying and selling drugs here. They go on like hell.”
Adonis believes the neighbourhood watch can stop the situation from worsening, but acknowledges that it cannot be done without assistance.
“We want to stop it, but if nobody is going to stand with us… We can’t do this thing on our own, man. Somebody must stand with us,” he said.
Photo: Sam Adonis (Ra’eesa Pather)
Despite the fact that the DA has supplied him with a house, Adonis remains displeased, claiming his shack was less cramped for his seven family members. The outcome has left him looking for new leadership.
“I think I must actually vote for Malema. Maybe he will give me a better place to stay. For years we were struggling under the African National Congress, because they always come with lies,” explained Adonis.
Nearby Adonis lives Rita Farmer, a 45-year-old resident who lost the use of her legs after a stroke in 2012. Her disability has left Farmer unable to find employment and her 14-year-old son is not yet ready to provide financial support.
“I don’t get a grant. I went to the doctor and the doctor said I didn’t go regularly for my medication. I couldn’t go regularly because I had no way to get there. I have to go all the way to Lotus River – there’s no clinic here,” Farmer said.
Farmer sits in her wheelchair in the middle of her house. She “feels good about the house”, but the lack of medical and financial care has taken its toll.
“I cope living here without money; I cope. It’s hard not having proper facilities,” she said.
Photo: Rita Farmer (Ra’eesa Pather)
Housing, drugs, inefficient medical care and unemployment have been the crux of South Africa’s 20-year narrative. These are the troubles of poverty-stricken people regardless of skin colour. People in Pelican Park are aware of this. Their concern is that their change is not a priority.
“They think coloured people are middle class, but actually it’s the coloureds who suffer. We don’t know where we stand,” said Jacobs. DM
Main photo: Shaleen September (Ra’eesa Pather)