Services offer little respite in stinking Zonke

Mfundekelwa Mkhulisi

Mfundekelwa Mkhulisi

Zonkizizwe is an isiZulu word meaning all nations.

As the name suggests, the population of the informal settlement on the outskirts of Katlehong in Ekurhuleni comprises multi-ethnic groups with large numbers of Zulus and Sothos.

Shortened to Zonke, thesettlement is surrounded by farmland from which it owes its birth.

Even today most of its people work on the nearby potato farm.

According to the locals, the farm is their source of income.

They say more than 60percent of the people from Zonke are employed at the farm.

They also buy potatoes from the farm to sell in their spaza shops.

Zonke was established as a shack dwelling in the late 1980s solely as a result of the inability of the existing settlements to cope with the influx of job-seekers in Johannesburg and Germiston.

Like its counterparts in the east of Johannesburg, Zonke has had very traumatic experiences.

Before it turned 10 years old, the settlement was engulfed in the violence fuelled by the apartheid government in the early 1990s.

Many people died and others fled the area. The area was at the time regarded as a stronghold of the Inkatha Freedom Party.

However, in the mid-1990s the community came together and stopped the violence. All ethnic groups coexisted peacefully once again.

Now, a new challenge is facing Zonke.

Despite having water, electricity, schools, clinics and paved roads, the maintenance of these services is appalling.

Residents have had to put up with the unbearable smell of sewage from blocked pipes for more that four years.

They say the authorities know about their problems but nothing is being done.

"We have pools of green sewerage sludge in our yards. We can't cook or eat with the doors open because the flies are all over," says Nonhlanhla Mbatha.

She says her father had tried to plaster the licking sewage pipe behind their house but it did not help.

"It is worse during the day. I guess it is because most people are using their toilets and taps, so the pipe gets flooded," she says.

She says her younger sister develops a skin rash all over her body from time to time. "She complains that the eruption is itchy."

Thokozani Mswane, whose face-brick house is submerged in water, says he fears his children will drown in the pool of water surrounding his house.

"When we complain our councillor tells us we do not make enough noise about the problem. I don't know what she means by that," he says.

He says he leaves his car in the street because the road in front of his house has been damaged by the stagnant water.

"There is no water drainage system in our streets. If it rains our houses are flooded because water is all over," Mswane says.

Residents say the sewage backup had forced them to keep their children indoors. They say they fear the children would drown or even drink the contaminated water.

Betty Morobi, 66, says: "I fell into that stinking water last night. I slipped from the building blocks that I use as a makeshift bridge to get into my house."

She says it is difficult to walk on the blocks at night because she cannot see clearly. "I have to ask my grandchildren to lead me across the building blocks," she says.

Gladys Mokoena, owner of Takalane Day Care Centre, says the mosquito-infested Zone 4 section of the sprawling settlement is a hazard to children.

"They bite the children. We use pesticides but it does not help because there are many of them," she says.

The other major problem facing Zonke is HIV-Aids.

Most of the children have lost either one or both of their parents to the scourge.

Many are now living as orphans in child-headed households where the eldest sibling is in charge or they live with relatives.

A member of the community policing forum, Fanie Nkosi, says the crime rate is high.

"We have had a number of murders and robberies in Zonke. It is quite high," he says.

Nkosi says his team and the police are working together to curb crime that has ravaged the community. "We will eventually win. We cannot allow a situation where criminals will terrorise the people," he says.