We want the truth: Frustration overflows as Freedom Park demands answers about status of land

By Bheki C. Simelane 15 April 2019
A protester covers his face with a bandana while he and others occupy the junction of a busy road as part of a service delivery protest in Eldorado Park, Johannesburg, South Africa, 15 April 2019. EPA-EFE/KIM LUDBROOK

On Monday 15 April several areas saw protest action erupt, including impoverished Freedom Park near Eldorado Park in Johannesburg, as residents take advantage of electioneering season to get their voices heard.

The Freedom Park community near Eldorado Park wants authorities to explain the status of a piece of land called Southern Farm. The land was apparently earmarked for a number of community development projects such as RDP houses and rental flats but the development, according to irate residents, has stalled.

On Monday 15 April, their frustrations spilt out on to the street.

We are told the mayor (Herman Mashaba) is stalling meetings with other stakeholders in government,” said Thabang Makhele, one of the leaders of the Freedom Park Shutdown Committee.

Please understand that we don’t want to be judgemental. That is why we want the three authorities to come here and explain the current status of the land and approved projects. These are the city of Johannesburg, the Minister and the province.

We do not want to be seen as people who are taking sides, we want the three authorities to come and tell us what happened to the projects. We want accountability. We want the truth,” Makhele said.

When Daily Maverick asked Makhele what the community set to gain from the land, Makhele cited job opportunities in the delayed projects and decent shelter, as part of the objective was to build RDP houses and rental flats.

We will not retreat when it comes to the land issue. We have been deprived of many other things, including electricity. We are not going to wait for the elections, we want this solved now. We are saying we want the officials here tomorrow (Tuesday 16 April),” added Makhele.

Makhele warned the ANC and the DA against using the plight of the people of Freedom Park and other neglected poor communities for their own political gain.

If DA and ANC want to play politics, they must play politics in the ballot not on service delivery because that directly affects us and we don’t like it. They should not be allowed to drown our legitimate issues with their obnoxious political rhetoric. Someone needs to tell them to stop because we can see through their flimsy political stunts and we are not interested,” he said.

A Freedom Park resident who arrived in the area in 1999 said: “We are striking today because we see no progress in this area. Our children finish school but cannot find jobs. The rights that we were promised in 1994 are not materialising. How much longer should we wait?”

Nothing happened between what the government promised and what they are delivering,” said 69-year-old Ephraim Mpofu from Freedom Park.

Nothing, very little if anything, too little to meet migration and population growth needs. We are allowed to approach them if they are willing to listen but if they cannot fix our problems, we won’t stop protesting and fighting for our rights.

We want to know why the 1994 promises are not kept. We need to do away with corruption, councillors should be transparent and not conduct themselves like they are mini community chiefs. To ease the frustrations of the community government must go back and fix the pressing issues, and ensure that those who are corrupt and delaying development should be brought to book,” said Mpofu.

But their frustrations will not see them boycotting the polls.

I will most definitely vote,” said Thamsanqa Njoti from Freedom Park.

The difference is that I will vote differently. I would be an idiot to think that someone who has failed in over two decades can suddenly spin a miracle. I have had enough of the lies. It doesn’t matter who I vote for, I just want to vote wisely since 1994.”

Njoti said there was no excuse in all this for authorities. He said it was disingenuous for authorities to keep making further promises when they haven’t satisfactorily delivered on their initial promise.

Where are the houses that were promised in 1994? asked Njoti.

What happened to that promise, was it even a promise or did we misread it? We are fed up. We are not children who can be lied to again and again,” Njoti said.

Over the past two weeks, protests have erupted all around the country, with at least 13 reported at the end of last week. This week more communities organised shutdowns, including Ennerdale and Freedom Park in Gauteng. A number of arrests have been made.

There have been a number of explanations for the protests – over the weekend DA leader Mmusi Maimane blamed the ANC for the protests calling the protests ANC-sponsored anarchy.

The ANC, in turn, has laid the blame at the feet of the DA-headed Johannesburg municipality.

The two parties have been at the centre of the ongoing unrest in Alexandra with both being criticised for using the area as their political football, and for taking advantage of the people’s problems. DM


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