This sh*thole is our home
Bird poop and feathers make a mess on the floor of the community hall in Zone 2 in Thaba Nchu. No one bothers to clean it up because the pigeons get back in through a broken ceiling and roost and defecate from the bare rafters. No one’s bothered to fix the roof either. The zinc sheets of the roof flap noisily as gusts of wind threaten to rip the sheets off completely.
The handful of men who have gathered in the hall barely notice the sheets crashing down with metallic clunks; they barely notice the bird faeces. George Ledibane is among them. He is polite and speaks in a clear, measured way, saying that for more than 20 years they have asked for proper toilets in their area, not the pit latrines they have to live with.
‘It stinks and children can even fall into those pits. We have meetings and we come to speak and all we hear are empty promises,’ says Ledibane. As the men tell their stories, he jumps from his seat. For a brief moment he can no longer keep his composure.
‘The sh*t stands this high,’ he shouts, waving his hand. He uses the expletive deliberately because the overflowing latrines are part of their daily life.
There is no proper sanitation in the Zone and everyone nods when Ledibane starts telling about livestock that roams around their homes, grazing and defecating.
‘It is unhealthy and can make people sick. It can spread diseases, but this is how we are expected to live,’ he says.
When people do get sick, they dread a visit to the clinic or the district hospital. The local clinic, which serves five zones, is overcrowded, and under-resourced. The locals don’t trust that they are being given proper service, believing that, regardless of the ailment or diagnosis, everyone is given a handful of the same pain medication and sent on their way. It may seem like an exaggeration, but people h ear so few good news stories from the clinic and the hospital that anecdotal evidence and personal experiences are accepted as truth.
The group of men have arrived to share their stories in the hope that, back in Bloemfontein, officials will spare a thought for those in the far-flung districts.
‘…the family might as well have called for a hearse, because the ambulance didn’t arrive.”
Tragedy struck close to home for Joseph Mogale in August this year. His neighbour’s child, a 16-year-old boy, starting complaining of pains during the night. When his condition continued to worsen the family knew they had to get him to hospital. ‘It was 2am when we started to hear all the noise from next door. But the family might as well have called for a hearse, because the ambulance didn’t arrive,’ he says. The teenager died hours later. For Mogale, there’s only despair, no hope. He has a tertiary education qualification but no job and no immediate prospects. He says: ‘The government is not working for the community and there’s nothing here for young people – there are no jobs.
‘Even if you have a tertiary education and you send your CV to a government department you won’t get the job. You’ll see the same names come up again and again for jobs and if you don’t have the right surname then you can forget it,’ he says.
Ledibane remembers when there were at least factories in the former homeland as well as better colleges and better facilities. After the ANC came to power though many factories shut down. ‘The factories were run by Taiwanese. They didn’t pay well, but at least it was a job and people had a chance. Now those factories are gone, they were just shut down, now it’s like life just shut down here,’ he says.
Ledibane puts it down the current state of affairs down to political interference, the lack of political will and bad management of resources, and lack of infrastructural development. The community tried to create a crisis committee earlier this year, to compel the authorities to see their plight and their needs. ‘We want the MEC to come and see so we can convince him,’ Ledibane says. They bang on but it’s a bit like the loose zinc sheet flapping in the wind, after a while it just becomes background noise.