'No one wants to listen to us': angry Kliptown residents turn to SAHRC

The SA Human Rights Commission joined residents on a walk-about to identify problems in Kliptown, where raw sewage flowing down the streets is a common sight.
The SA Human Rights Commission joined residents on a walk-about to identify problems in Kliptown, where raw sewage flowing down the streets is a common sight.
Image: Sebabatso Mosamo/Sunday Times

Residents of historic Kliptown, Soweto, blame empty promises by government officials - specifically the lack of decent housing, electricity and flushing toilets, which often leads to sewage running across the streets and even into their yards - for their frustration.

They lodged a complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), which conducted a site inspection of the historic area on Monday.

"We just want better living conditions. We're also entitled to the right of privacy," said one resident, George Mohlala.

Mohlala said the community had written to the commission because previous attempts to get authorities to the area had been unsuccessful. "We have tried everything, be it writing to the local, provincial and national governments, but it seems no one wants to listen to us," he said.

Along with chemical toilets, Kliptown residents also use the bucket system.
Along with chemical toilets, Kliptown residents also use the bucket system.
Image: Sebabatso Mosamo/Sunday Times

Monica Nathan, 77, said she wished for a decent house and a flush toilet.

"It's bad here. We have been complaining, but get empty promises. It's very degrading that we sometimes have to use the bucket system because there's too many of us who use these mobile communal toilets. They are too smelly and dirty," she said.

The overused mobile toilets are located right in front of people's homes and give off a pungent smell. 

Buang Jones of the SAHRC said the inspection followed allegations by residents that the Kliptown urban renewal project had not improved the environment or people's socio-economic conditions, despite millions being allocated to regenerate the area.

Residents of Kliptown are still forced to share a few portable toilets - or resort to the bucket system.
Residents of Kliptown are still forced to share a few portable toilets - or resort to the bucket system.
Image: Sebabatso Mosamo/Sunday Times

The programme, which started in 2002, was aimed at clearing the greater Kliptown area of informal settlements and providing residents with government-subsidised formal housing units. 

Reflecting on what the commission had observed, Jones said it was concerning to see the deplorable conditions that residents had to endure.

"What we've seen is sheer neglect, a sheer violation of constitutional responsibilities, of ensuring that people live in dignity and enjoy basic socio-economic rights," he said.

What we've seen is sheer neglect."
Buang Jones of the SAHRC

Resident Urika Pais said it was heartbreaking that such dire living conditions were common in the historic township where the Freedom Charter was adopted in 1955.

"We have tourists coming here daily, we have movies being shot - but nothing for the community. Even the booming businesses hardly ever employ people in the area. It's heartbreaking and dehumanising," she said.  

Jones said Kliptown was one of the few places in Soweto that remained neglected and urgent intervention was needed. 

"It is disheartening that a place that is a heritage landmark for our democratic country has been neglected like this ... Something needs to be done, our role is to hold government accountable and demand answers," he said. 

Jones said after the inspection the commission would write to the provincial government to share residents'concerns and would demand a response within 30 days. 

"We are going to request the city of Johannesburg and the provincial government to attend to the needs of the people of Kliptown. We also hope to have a round-table discussion with both the provincial and the city government to find lasting solutions."


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