a life of dire poverty

Madala Thepa

Madala Thepa

The spotlight fell on nasty hate attacks in South Africa some few weeks ago. Friends and relatives have been tarred, feathered and others killed in what looked like the second coming of the 1990s political violence.

In Willow Park, a farm 15km outside Zeerust in North West, the story is quite different from xenophobic attacks. Theirs is a dare and gamble, a DIY world - where Charles Bukowski's "children" are battling to save "the carcass of humanity from drowning". No one goes to work or has a job. The axis of poverty wrecks people apart in this population of about 70 people and 35 households.

We arrive on Thursday afternoon when most people are drunk from a cheap brandy called tlokwe. In the back of a falling mud house, an old man is choking on his Boxer joint, and there spits the juice on the ground. He wears Wellingtons (gumboots) and an overall, and has severe black patches on his sunken cheeks. His name is Ntshekisang Mokgolela, and he is 57 years old. We learn later that he is argumentative, erratic and a loner. He has fought to be credited as the induna of the farm.

The first person to hang on our coat tail is 30-year-old Molatlhegi Molefe. He is eloquent in Setswana and rapidly goes over the farm's catalogue of hardships.

"Porridge on the table. That's what we are all about, my brother," he says. "I can do everything you want me to do. Even if you say ride this bike and fetch water, I'll do it. Just help us, the situation is bad here."

Molefe is the stud of the farm, with nose ring and earrings. He has the body of a boxer, with veins stringing out on his limbs like a man on steroids. His fingernails are clogged with dirt - the nails look almost like they have been tinted with henna. Such is the desperation on the farm that a visitor, no matter how young, is honoured with the title "Mister".

"We survive on grants. Children's grants keep the wolf away from the door. But next month it will be the last grant of R940 we will get from the government. They say they can only give as far as three months, and they want us to keep slips of whatever we have purchased. The suspicion is that we might drink this money," he says.

"We don't have toilets. We help ourselves in the bushes. The houses are falling apart. People sleep on empty stomachs."

And just as he is about to cap it, an old woman interjects. "We literally sit on shit when it's raining because you can't go outside to relieve yourself," she says, and laughter erupts from the gathered crowd.

Her name is Theninko Moagi, a name she cannot spell. "Where are the kids who can spell?" she inquires, but no one volunteers as a few kids who travel 12km or so to Lehurutse for school are still young to formulate letters. Moagi only remembers that she was born on August 28 1939, on the farm, and that she was badly treated by a Paul Snyman and his brother Chris.

The former owner of the farm, Snyman, is the most despised. They spit on the ground when they mention his name. "When he left, we did not even get the blue cards. He just left us like that," she says.

"The land is arable. It used to produce organic vegetables, we had dairy products and we had pigs, springboks... but now the land is empty. Paul took all his machines and left us with nothing."

The land was given to the people by the North West government. But they were left to fend for themselves with only one borehole, which is now not working because there is no electricity on site. The derelict buildings on the other side is a reminder that this was once a fruitful farm where dairy products were produced. Now the fortunes have turned. Our photographer, Antonio Muchave, calls it "being set up to fail".

Services are hard to come by. The mobile clinic comes only after three months, and according to Molefe, the biggest problems are TB and HIV-Aids.

"Because we survive on grants, the temptation is to have more kids. The other problem is that people smoke a lot and our environment is not really healthy to live in. It's even hard when you fall ill. You phone an ambulance, but first you get connected to Pretoria where we are not recognised, then referred to Zeerust and then Lehurutse Hospital. You can imagine the run-around."

The day at Willow Park is spent in shades playing cards, drinking and gyrating to a song from a radio, with children in rags chasing bicycle rims and women doing the washing - when not drinking. Shopping is done in Zeerust, and the mode of transport when we visited, is a donkey cart.

Although they have one who is not "their own", one Paul Zondo - the original induna of the farm - the only ethnic attack they can muster is to contradict him on the history of the farm. Food, jobs and proper houses or grants for now it's all they need. They wonder who will pick up the tab once the grant from social development ends next month.