Freedom evades Freedom Park as residents protest over lack of access to land and sanitation
‘I don’t feel the freedom… we are hungry, living over water in a small shack. The area was a dumping site. I don’t know how I could be free in the way I live,’ says Nonkosi Ndaba of the Lindelani informal settlement.
On 27 April, more than a hundred members of the Abahlali base Freedom Park land rights movement ululated, cheered and prayed as Thabang Makhele, one of the movement’s leaders, informed the crowd that a new housing project would get under way in June.
The group has fought for land rights for more than a decade with mixed results and much repression.
The Freedom Day gathering on a piece of land earmarked for development took place in the wake of Abahlali baseMjondolo’s UnFreedom Day demonstration in KwaZulu-Natal.
“I don’t feel the freedom… we are hungry, living over water in a small shack. The area was a dumping site. I don’t know how I could be free in the way I live,” said Nonkosi Ndaba, who has lived in Lindelani informal settlement with her partner and five-year-old child for seven years. She said that living on damp land resulted in her child getting pneumonia and bronchitis. She survives on the child grant and domestic work.
Abahlali base Freedom Park has more than 5,000 members. They have an annual UnFreedom Day event where they meet to protest against Freedom Day and update their members on progress made in their struggle for land.
“I don’t know what to say, because we are not celebrating Freedom Day,” said Peter Monethe, a leader of the civic movement.
The group recently completed an audit to “review if the official government basic sanitation data – which records information about the type, quantity and state of basic services like the provision of electricity, refuse removal, water and sanitation that is being delivered to the relevant communities – aligns with what is being delivered on the ground and to highlight existing gaps and needs on the ground”.
The audit report included the informal settlements of BP Garage, Mountainview, Tuckshop, Ntabeni, Lindelani, Satellite, Malemaville, Section, Dark City, Nathi, Fihliwe and Eikenhof, and focuses primarily on the social determinants of health and their impact on the communities.
The report found that:
- Most settlements are underserviced, with some areas experiencing zero access to basic services.
- Prevailing health inequities such as high levels of poverty, unemployment and crime, and low levels of service delivery. Most people complained that police and ambulances are unable to access their settlements because there are no roads.
- Only 7.5% of the shared community toilets were cleaned daily, with most (58%) being cleaned weekly.
- 61% of human waste from the communal toilets was removed weekly, while 12% of residents reported that their waste was not removed at all.
- 40.5% of residents said water tanks were located far from the toilets.
“We formed Abahlali after we witnessed the corruption in housing… people registered, but only those in the ANC or people with money would get the RDP houses. So many have died waiting for RDP houses… that’s how the struggle for land started. Similar issues caused us to focus on development and securing quality jobs,” said Monethe.
Jabulani Baninzi has been part of the movement since its inception. “There are different political parties, but I joined Abahlali because they fight for our rights. I can’t believe our struggle for this land will now bear fruit. Today we are here to pray over this land… you can see there are a lot of bushes here, so a lot goes on – people are killed here and other horrific things happen. We are praying over the land so that the project can be a success,” said Baninzi.
Hope vs disappointment
Baninzi said that while he is hopeful the new project will come to fruition, corruption has left him disappointed in the past.
“They say the development will start, but… a lot of the elderly were registered for RDP houses and lost them or were not selected because they didn’t have a connection in the corrupt system.”
Freedom Park resident Sebenzile Madondo said that not owning a home has made her life difficult over the years.
“We don’t have a place to live… I have four children and one is disabled. We are not free. I live in a one-room shack and the male kids sleep in the section I’ve made in the kitchen. Even when it’s raining, we have to stand outside while the female kids bathe,” said Madondo.
Abahlali base Freedom Park said the next step was to share their report with affected communities and the City of Johannesburg and Johannesburg Water to begin a public participation process. DM/MC