Stables not fit for horses, let alone human habitation

HOME GROUND: Some people call this home. It's just 50m from the plush Newmarket racecourse. Pic. Mohau Mofokeng. 11/12/2006. © Sowetan.
HOME GROUND: Some people call this home. It's just 50m from the plush Newmarket racecourse. Pic. Mohau Mofokeng. 11/12/2006. © Sowetan.

Getrude Makhafola

Getrude Makhafola

The Newmarket racecourse in Alberton, Ekurhuleni, is famous as a venue for the sport of kings.

But as far as 33-year-old Miriam Masanabo (not her real name) is concerned, there is nothing royal about Newmarket and its surroundings.

Masanabo and her three children, two girls, aged one and three, and a 10-year-old boy, live in a small dilapidated, disused stable, about 50m from the racecourse. The stables on the plot, which the tenants call "33", have neither running water nor electricity.

"My children do not have an open area in which to play. This place is on a steep incline. It is grassy and dangerous. It is also not healthy because of heaps of rubbish in the yard," said Masanabo, who pays R250 a month into the unidentified owner's bank account.

Masanabo's room is dark and windowless. The bigger "rooms" cost R450.

Tenants were reluctant to speak to Sowetan for fear of losing their accommodation.

About 105 men, women and children live in similar conditions in the five blocks of stables. They share two toilets, one for men and one for women.

Some of the stables still house horses, which the tenants say belong to the landlord.

Like Masanabo, most tenants are unemployed and homeless people who come from outside Gauteng to look for work.

Masanabo arrived in Gauteng from the Free State four years ago.

She did find a job, but later lost it along with her rented Vosloorus four-roomed house.

"I have been homeless and unemployed ever since. I rely on piece jobs and my children's welfare grants for survival. Life is hard," she said.

The handful of horse breeders who live in plush areas next to the racetrack have turned most of their stables into living accommodation and rent them out to desperate people.

Sophy Mthimkulu, one of the tenants, said that they were constantly at risk of some disease breaking out.

Koos van der Berg, president of the Saddle Horse Breeders Association, said that the structures were built for horses.

"However, we don't have control over who the owner decides to put into those stables," said Van der Berg.

Said Masanabo: "I just wish to own a brick house, a place my children can call home."

The 2600m course is considered among the fairest in South Africa. It is surrounded by sprawling plots with horse stables, few of which house horses.

Phumelela, the national horse-racing operator, will stage 36 race meetings a year until 2012. With the introduction of casinos and the national lottery, business is not as good as it was. But horse-racing enthusiasts still flock to Newmarket.