Poor residents of Evaton say they see no evidence of a better life

BROKEN PROMISES: There is a lot of poverty and crime in Evaton West. Stokie Kebela is one of the many people who are suffering from the unhealthy conditions. Pic. Len Kumalo. 10/11/06. © Sowetan.
BROKEN PROMISES: There is a lot of poverty and crime in Evaton West. Stokie Kebela is one of the many people who are suffering from the unhealthy conditions. Pic. Len Kumalo. 10/11/06. © Sowetan.

Tommy Makoe

Tommy Makoe

A glimpse at Evaton Extension 11, one of the oldest Reconstruction and Development Programme housing projects, shows how awry this government initiative has gone.

Undertaken in 1996, this massive housing project located at the entrance of Sebokeng in the Vaal, near the Golden Highway, says very little about the promise of a better life for the poor. It is a stark reminder of the levels of poverty in South Africa.

Behind this pillar of social transformation are unhappy beneficiaries with very few options.

Residents said they are caught up in the grip of crime, lack of police presence, high municipal service charges, poor access to health, unhealthy living conditions and unemployment. On top of all this, they are forced to live with their big families in the one- roomed houses.

Lydia Moloi, who was allocated a house in 1996, thought her life would improve. She said if she had a choice she would go back to her parents' home.

"I have been robbed 10 times here. In one of the robberies I was pistol-whipped and robbed of R5000. Criminals own the night here. Nobody walks the streets after 6pm."

Her neighbour, David Modise, said criminals once broke the windows of all the houses in his street.

"They steal lightbulbs, water pumps and live chickens. They are in control because there are no street lights and no police presence."

To reach the nearest police station residents must have R16 for taxi fare.

Moloi said: "You leave home early in the morning and arrive back in the afternoon. Though there are no long queues at the police station, the police delay because they service other areas."

Sarah Charlton, of the University of the Witwatersrand's School of Architecture and Planning, said housing developments were not planned in an integrated manner and government departments budgeted for different priorities.

"The effect of this on communities is that for people to access a police station, a clinic or other necessary services, they have to travel a distance. This is why people from as far as Diepsloot use hospitals such as Helen Joseph and Coronation."

She said areas in the south were on the periphery of development, and as a result they were not well located to tap into the growing economic, employment and developmental opportunities in South Africa.

Housing Department spokesman Monwabisi Maclean confirmed that one of the biggest challenges for the government is the availability of well-located land for low-cost housing.

But Modise believes the reason for the high crime rate in her area is "the lack of a sense of community".

She said part of the problem was that most of the houses were rented or sold to strangers.

"In some of these houses criminals keep their loot. Some people do not need them for accommodation but for business. One person owns up to 10 houses, which are either rented out or are used for business."

Though the department agreed that people were selling and renting houses, they do not have statistics because "we have not researched the problem", Maclean said.

"Reasons vary why people rent or sell. We can only conclude that some no longer need them while others leave because of job opportunities elsewhere or they go back to the rural areas."

He said selling RDP houses is illegal.

"The Housing Act makes it illegal to sell an RDP house if it has been occupied for less than eight years."

But Extension 11 residents said many people sold or rented the houses because of their size, location and poverty.

Moloi said: "I live with my husband and 11-year-old-son in this one-roomed house. How do we sleep in this tiny house?

"For my husband and I to enjoy our privacy, we sleep in the shack we have built in the yard. My son sleeps alone in the house," she said.

Moloi said the houses were built with no foresight.

"Families grow. My son will marry one day. He will bring his wife and children home and where will they sleep? Do you expect shacks to stop mushrooming? Our lives are going to be more difficult in the future."

Moloi said residents also felt that they were dumped in the middle of nowhere and that is why some people did not take pride in ownership of the houses.

"Since we came here nobody has removed our refuse. People are forced to dump rubbish near their houses.

"We buy our own refuse bags and when they are full we dump them in the open area. We are now used to living in these unhealthy conditions because we have no option," said Moloi.

She said selling and renting houses will not stop because most residents are poor and unemployed.

"Most of us already owe between R30 000 and R40 000 for water. We cannot pay because we are unemployed and cannot run a profitable business because of the rampant crime."