Cold comfort for the homeless living on a koppie

UNEMPLOYMENT has driven a group of people to illegally live under protruding rocks on a koppie in Kensington, Johannesburg.

The City of Johannesburg says the koppie is on private land and the people are living there illegally. About 20 people, most of them claiming they have been evicted from their previous residences in nearby Bertrams, live on the koppie.

"I came to live here in December. I was staying in Bertrams before. I got arrested for possession of dagga, and when I came out of prison I found that my landlord had sold all my belongings," said a man who introduced himself as Zincube.

With a glass of water and a towel in another hand, Zincube washes himself. The 35-year-old man says he is from KwaMaphumulo in KwaZulu-Natal. "My mother still lives there. I wish I could go home one day but I do not have money," he says while cleaning his teeth with crushed coal mixed with ashes.

Zincube says he has tried several times to raise money for transport without success. "I end up buying food with it. You know, I can't live without eating," he says.

Couple Jordan Dube and Thandani Moyo from Zimbabwe are also staying here. They say they have been kicked out of a flat they rented in Bertrams. "We do everything that couples do. We have sex here and there is nothing wrong with that," said Dube, 23.

Moyo, 22, said: "My boyfriend and I have unprotected sex. If I were to fall pregnant, I will take the baby to Jordan's mother back home."

They also have a 10-year-old daughter who lives with Dube's mother. Dube and Moyo have been together since 1998.

She said other men in the koppie had beaten and attempted to rape her several times. "One day some men tried to force me to leave my boyfriend. When I refused they beat me up. I ran to the security guards nearby. When I came back, our clothes and other belongings were burnt," she said.

Both are unemployed and survive on piece jobs and selling scrap metals.

Dube said he came to South Africa in 2003 and was employed as a painter. He went back home when he lost his job in 2006. "I returned in 2008 but could not find another job."

While most of the people here sleep under the shelter of the koppie, Dube and Moyo sleep in the open. "When it rains we just sit in the rain because we have no choice." Dube says.

Metro police spokesperson Phindhani Tebeila said they would refer the matter to the departments of social services and home affairs to see how they could help.

"Residents in the area are complaining about the high rate of crime and suspect the koppie dwellers are responsible. Besides, we cannot allow them to live there because they are occupying the land illegally," Tebeila said.