Maverick Citizen

COMMUNITY CRISIS

Finetown, Gauteng – where there is no councillor, no clinic, no service delivery and now no childcare centre

Finetown, Gauteng – where there is no councillor, no clinic, no service delivery and now no childcare centre
A child peers through a gate as residents queue for parcels of food in Finetown, south of Johannesburg, on 7 May 2020. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Finetown Childcare Centre — a small, volunteer-run NPO operating out of renovated containers that were donated by the Department of Health — was burnt down. The NPO has still not reopened and community members say there are no longer any safe, supervised spaces for children to play, eat and receive help with schoolwork.

Families and residents in the township of Finetown, in the south of Gauteng, say the community lacks safe places for children to play, get help with homework and receive meals after the Finetown Childcare Centre, an NPO that had been serving children and elderly community members since 2012, burnt down during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The centre was started in 2012 by Sarah Phaka. It cared for children, provided them with a safe, supervised place to play and do schoolwork, and  provided them with meals. It was in a lot across the street from the clinic, which was under construction at the time.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘We are suffering’: Gauteng’s Finetown clinic remains shuttered three years after being built 

Funding issues from the start  

Phaka said the Department of Social Development refused to provide support or funding to the FCC because it did not have a permanent structure. The FCC was housed in renovated containers that were given to the FCC by the Gauteng Department of Health. Volunteers renovated the containers and turned them into classrooms, using Phaka’s own money to do so. Without government support, the FCC relied mainly on funding from independent donors. 

In 2014, Ismail Vadi, the then MEC for Roads and Transportation, gifted the FCC with blankets and learning materials and helped paint its two classrooms for Mandela Day.  

Community member Beauty Moletsane in Finetown on Friday, 14 April. (Photo: Leon Sadiki)

The FCC’s impact on the community 

Beauty Moletsane, who helped with the FCC, said she was inspired to help children in the community because she herself did not have parents or family looking after her when she was growing up, and spent time living on the streets. 

“I know what is happening on the streets, it’s not nice,” Moletsane said. “When I see a child or anybody lying on the road, I get hurt, I cry … Then I said, let me volunteer myself and check those kids.” 

However, the FCC had to halt operations during the Covid-19 pandemic. And in 2020, while it was unoccupied, the renovated containers that housed the FCC were burned down in a fire, which Moletsane and Phaka said may have been set by people under the influence of substances. 

Since the fire, volunteers and community members have not been able to receive funding or support from the government or independent donors to resume operations. Now, Moletsane said, there is not a single NPO in Finetown to provide support and a safe space to children. 

Families struggling since the FCC’s closure 

Christina, a mother of three who lives in Finetown, used to bring her children to the FCC every weekday and sometimes at weekends.   

“The NPO was helping me too much,” Christina said. “Everything was safe, even the environment for the kids … But now, because it’s no longer here, we are no longer safe, we don’t know where to put the kids any more.” 

In the past, Moletsane said, when someone in the community found an unaccompanied child, they would drop him or her off at the FCC. Now, patrollers must call the police and wait with the unaccompanied child until the police arrive.  

Moletsane added that some children in the community had relied on the meals provided at the FCC, and were now going hungry.  

A track record of neglect and service delivery issues  

Residents said the lack of support for the FCC was part of a larger trend of government neglect and service delivery issues in Finetown. 

“The government does not see us, they only come here to get votes. Finetown does not have anything for the community … the clinic is the first service delivery in Finetown from the government,” said Moletsane.  

Residents have to travel long distances on public transport to get to government offices to collect grants. 

“The nearest Sassa [South African Social Security Agency] office is Ennerdale. Everything is Ennerdale,” said Phaka. 

“Home Affairs, you must go to either Soweto, Joburg or Vereeniging,” said Moletsane.  

The community is plagued by substance abuse. 

“Drugs are a serious problem in Finetown and they are affecting our children,” said one resident. “We need a rehabilitation centre near us or just something to show these kids that we are trying to help them.” 

The nearest rehabilitation centre is Jamela Rehabilitation Centre in Vanderbijlpark. Although many residents praised the centre, they also raised concerns that it is too far and costly for Finetown residents. 

“This is a good place, it is really good but it is so far, you take a journey and you need to cover your own transport there. Many people in Finetown are not working, it is difficult to afford this,” said a resident.  

A lack of recreational facilities and high unemployment contribute to substance abuse in the community. “There is no skill centre, no safe area for kids to play soccer, no library, no jobs, there is just nothing in Finetown. Even when they come back from the rehab, what are they going to do?” said a resident. 

The community does not have a health clinic either; although construction of the Finetown clinic finished in 2020, it remains shuttered and is described as “an empty white elephant” by residents. 

“In Finetown … if a child falls down here, you need to take them to Lenasia South Hospital or Ennerdale Clinic; around here we have nothing,” said Phaka.  

The schools in the area are also a cause of concern. “You go to the high school now and you will cry. Kids are sitting on the floor and they have to share textbooks,” said Moletsane.  

Finetown Primary School is a mixture of container classrooms and a permanent structure, while Finetown Secondary School only has mobile classrooms. “It is only the mobile classes, we don’t know when they’ll change that. If it rains that affects the children,” said Christina.  

Most of the roads in the area are covered in gravel and residents said many roads in the township were not maintained, sometimes making it dangerous for children to walk to school. “It is very difficult for the kids to walk by that bridge. We are not free for them to walk there, it is dangerous,” said Moletsane.  

Currently, Finetown does not have a councillor. Many areas do not have consistent electricity because there are not enough transformers and the existing infrastructure is very old. Residents also experience frequent water shedding — often with no communication from officials. 

“Right now we do not have a councillor, we are like headless chickens,” said Christina. 

“When you talk about service delivery we don’t know what you mean because we do not have any services here. We want the government to recognise us,” said one resident. DM

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