Defend Truth


Good Samaritans – but not government – help a sand-bogged community Overcome its hardships


Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar was born in Cape Town and raised by his determined mother, grandparents, aunt and the rest of his maternal family. He is an admitted attorney (formerly of the corporate hue), with recent exposure in the public sector, and is currently working on transport and infrastructure projects. He is a Mandela Washington Fellow, a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, and a WEF Global Shaper. He had a brief stint in the contemporary party politic environment working for Mamphela Ramphele as Agang CEO and chief-of-staff; he found the experience a deeply educational one.

We often speak of poverty in theoretical terms without ever truly appreciating the hardship and hopelessness that poverty perpetuates. Perhaps this is the reason why it is easy to talk about overcoming poverty and about people who against all odds are able to get out of the cycle of poverty. But Overcome in Cape Town is not such a place. This is not a place of happy beginnings or happy endings. This is a place where each day is a bitter struggle.

In 2006, local politicians promised housing for those people who settled on a sand dune area behind Capricorn, and more than 6,000 people had moved onto the property within 72 hours of opening the site, with no water or sanitation facilities.

There are now communal water taps and basic sanitation but those facilities are still well below adequate. None of it meaningfully addresses the underlying issue, nor does it seek to address the underlying poverty and despair.

The estimated population for Overcome is in the region of 13,000 but the true number is probably as high as 25,000, and the population continues to grow steadily with a high number of young children, who are trapped into a cycle of poverty.

The sifting of sand does not provide any promise or change for the people trapped here. There is no alternative narrative or story for young children to look to. This hopelessness is made worse often by frequent fires, which rip away the very little they have, and leaves them waiting for a helping hand. Corrugated iron and the few worldly possessions are removed in a flash of fire, forcing them further into poverty and despair. The frequency of this will increase as summer approaches and sadly the response to such tragedy will never be enough.

Overcome has a similar story to that of Blikkiesdorp, which is officially referred to as the Symphony Way Temporary Relocation Area, where people were promised homes but instead are forced to wait in the abyss of sandy dunes.

All of those promises have been broken and there remains no real solution to this impossible situation. They sit on the outskirts of our society, communities and cities and so it is easy for them to be forgotten. There can never be any permanency in places like Overcome and so it is almost impossible for people to be rooted in anything but despair.

Into this breach, a number of unsung heroes have decided to step in where they assist with poverty alleviation efforts and attempt to provide support, especially to the Early Childhood “facilities” that have sprung up all over Overcome.

One such hero is Bud Higgins, who tirelessly works with the forgotten people of Overcome, and over the past three years has established a network that supports and provides sustenance, guidance and poverty alleviation to at least 1,000 young children and their families every week. Bud does this work through her non-profit Tin Mugs Africa where she makes the choice each day not to forget the people of Overcome.

Bud’s efforts, like many across our country, often goes unnoticed but what she is doing is trying to provide young people with some hope so that one day they will be able to overcome the debilitating reality of their community.

Each week, people like Bud work in communities that are ravaged by poverty, gangs, crime, lawlessness, unemployment and hunger.

Just this past month, 13 makeshift homes went up in flames in Overcome, leaving about 90 people without any shelter, and exposing at least 40 young children to the elements. It is not enough for the City of Cape Town to simply provide a few corrugated sheets and planks to these families. How are these families expected to build shelter when they have no foundation? What are these families expected to sleep on? Surely, the sand cannot be an option for these families and their children?

A government that is unable to respond meaningfully to issues of poverty and inequality seen in places like Overcome is simply not fulfilling its constitutional obligations. It may be convenient to forget that people live in places like Overcome but it is shortsighted and wrong.

The local councillor is nowhere to be seen. The obligatory blanket and basic food supplies of samp and beans from the City may have been handed over but those families – without shelter, without utensils and electricity – will find it very difficult to cook their samp and beans. No officials from Social Development (from the City or Province) have intervened since the handover of those obligatory odds and ends. Instead, Bud is doing the daily work by providing mattresses, food and support as those families try to build shelters in the hope that this will be the last time that they will be pushed further into poverty. DM


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