By Ufrieda Ho
Mineral-rich, prosperous, the glitter of gold – that’s supposed to be the promise of the towns the sit atop the ore-rich western fringe of Gauteng.
But while mining giants may have cashed in for generations, many more labourers have been casualties of a long legacy of exploitation and shocking workplace practices.
There isn’t a clear sustainability plan for this sunset industry, leaving people who have flocked here in the hope of work and a better life with uncertain futures. Their present realities are still about competing for scarce jobs with few opportunities. They struggle to make ends meet in homes and communities that are underdeveloped, stuttering along with poor infrastructure, from a lack of basic services like piped water, electricity and proper sanitation, to clinics that are overcrowded and understaffed, and hospitals where maintenance and upgrading have not taken place in years.
People before profits
Richard Moloko (43) knows first-hand about the tough life on mines. In 2008 he was working for one of Carltonville’s big gold mines as a machine operator. That year, he was also diagnosed with HIV. It was a shock he says, but what was worse was that starting treatment that year took its toll on his body.
‛I would get dizzy and nauseous sometimes. Because I was working with flammable things on the mines they said I shouldn’t do my job anymore. After some time I was fired,’ says Moloko.
Initially, he thought that he would be offered another job, something that wouldn’t have comprised his or anyone else’s safety. Instead, he was sent home and now, eight years later, Moloko is still unemployed. He lives with his brother in Khutsong, a settlement outside Carltonville.
Moloko is on ARV treatment and gets his medicines from the local clinic, about 4 km from his home. The Welverdiend Clinic is small and cramped and sometimes he waits for hours. But generally there are no problems with stockouts, and that’s a relief, says Moloko. Still, he’s not completely well and he rolls up his sleeves to show a skin condition that won’t heal. He hasn’t been able to see a specialist, nor has the clinic referred his case to other hospitals in the municipality where he could find help.
Moloko’s health issues, though, concern him less than his lack of employment. He’s never been able to challenge his employers for firing him and now, eight years later, the company has changed ownership several times. He doesn’t know where to begin to take on the fight and he doesn’t have the resources to do so.
‛It does make me cross that this happened and that I can’t do anything about it. I accepted my HIV status, my employers should have too. I feel I was discriminated against. I am still discriminated against when I go look for work. But even so, I don’t hide that I am HIV positive. I always disclose, I’m not ashamed,’ he says.
Quiet and desperate on the western front
There’s an odd stillness for a mid-week morning in Extension 5 in Khutsong on the western rim of Gauteng. The blustery spring day has driven people indoors, but even so there are few signs of people stirring among the rows and rows of new RDP houses, as you’d expect in a sprawling location
Most people are away in town about 10 km away, looking for jobs, locals say. Many of the houses stand empty – curtains are drawn and everything is shut and locked. Locals says that the RDP houses are uninhabited because people can’t afford to live so far away from the centre of town, Nor can they maintain the upkeep of their homes, or pay for utilities like electricity bills in the sections of the settlement that has been electrified. People also can’t count on water to run from taps, even in those houses that have piped water.
Local Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) leaders like Tsediso Mokoena and Tshepo Maboe say that, to an outsider, the pastel-coloured RDP houses look like a step in the right direction for development. They acknowledge that efforts to improve the shortage of proper housing is a good thing, but they criticise the authorities for not considering the bigger picture by providing better planning and infrastructure.
‛They now say that this is a dolomite area and there are problems with the water, so people have to rely on Jojo tanks and water tankers for water, and they have to use portable toilets. They haven’t built proper roads here, so people can’t get in and out to town easily; it’s too expensive for many people. It’s like they, the council, didn’t know what they were doing when they developed here,’ says Mokoena.
At the end of July, a sinkhole in the area led to the collapse of the water pipes feeding water to Khutsong Extensions 4, 5 and the Welverdiend area, where the local clinic is located. The ground is confirmed to be unstable and water services remain interrupted, intermittent at best.
Unemployment has also hit hard here, making life much tougher for the likes of Nonzwakazi Mamane (39). She was absorbed into a community works programme launched across Gauteng in 2010. The programme is aimed at providing limited employment to the most vulnerable communities. In Khutsong, the project is to clean up the neighbourhood and tend to community vegetable gardens – with food security being one of the priority focus areas for the programme.
Mamane’s stipend is about R600 a month. It’s too little to survive on, she says, but without it she has nothing. The food gardens that are supposed to help supplement her, her husband and her three children’s diets, are failing because there is no piped water to keep the thirsty plants thriving. The community is also expected to buy its own seeds, fertilisers and gardening implements.
‛They say we are in a dolomite area so they stopped pumping water to us for over four months now. You don’t know when the water will come in the taps, it can be two o’clock in the morning and you’re sleeping then you don’t get water,’ says Mamane.
To water the gardens, the people on the project have to carry what they can in watering cans and buckets from a water tank to the gardens. It’s simply too much labour to be sustainable.
Water is top of mind for Mamane in a season of severe drought that has hit large parts of South Africa. Without water it’s not just that the vegetable gardens can’t grow, but hygienic sanitation is compromised and the risk of illness and disease increases. Already, raw sewage runs down the dust alleys that separate the government houses.
Mamane is worried about getting sick, because it means relying on the nearby clinic. Welverdiend Clinic is 4 km away and she has to catch a taxi to get there. ‛You can wait three hours. Last time I was there they told me I was supposed to have a pap smear, but they didn’t have the equipment to do it. It’s a very small clinic and they don’t have proper rooms, the space is just divided up and there’s no privacy for the patients,’ she says.
It’s a collapse of so many things for the likes of Mamane. ‛I’m going to be turning 40, I have to look after my three children and I can’t find a proper job. I don’t know what to do,’ she says, picking up her filled watering cans and heading home.
A friend in need
An old sewing machine whirrs inside an RDP house in Khutsong Extension 5. Florina Mothabeng (74) is hunched over the machine; she pauses only to hear more clearly what her friend Elizabeth Sholo is saying.
The two friends meet like this most days to pass a few hours of the day. Mothabeng is chirpy and chatty. Her house is one of about 18,000 that were part of a massive housing development launched in 2009 in the municipality. The houses were meant to be built on land that was safe for development and the housing project was meant to introduce an integrated rental model for Khutsong locals.
Mothabeng lives on her own, as does Sholo. It’s difficult for elderly people to look after themselves on their own. While Mothabeng says she’s fine and has little to complain about, she reveals that she’s on a slew of tablets for hypertension. She says she’s mostly satisfied with the service from the mobile clinic, which she can reach quite easily and where they have her medicines every month, she says.
But then she motions with her eyes and a little head nod that the questions about medical care should really be directed at her friend. She doesn’t want to put Sholo on the spot but she knows Sholo deserves better care and is not getting it.
Sholo obliges by lifting up a bandaged hand. She removes the wad of gauze and bandage to reveal a hand that’s badly deformed and scarred. This is an old injury from 2009, when Sholo was caught in a shack fire. They hand is all by useless. It still hurts, says Sholo.
At the time of the fire she was treated at the Leratong Hospital in Mogale City but her burns turned septic. Still, Sholo was sent home and had to learn to adjust to living with a damaged hand that still causes her pain.
At home, Sholo has to look after herself. The adult child she used to live with was killed in a car accident some years ago. Both grannies live alone and Mothabeng jokes that her children only visit to borrow the Tupperware she has in neat stacked tiers on her kitchen cabinet. She quips that if she had DStv then her grandchildren would also come visit her.
Jokes aside Mothabeng worries for her friend, who can’t remember exactly how old she is and also has failing eyesight. Sholo seems resigned to this existence and just asks for some help to wind the length of bandage back around her hand.
‛My heart is sore to see her like this,’ says Mothabeng.
A step too far
It’s been more than 18 months since Sibongile Kratshi (40) has been to a clinic or hospital. She’s HIV positive and is on ARVs. Kratshi knows she needs to have a blood test and to see a doctor, but it’s too painful to walk, to make the journey.
Kratshi was diagnosed with HIV in 2009. Since then, she’s suffered a stroke that has affected her speech and her movement. Her feet are constantly swollen and it hurts for her to shuffle to open a door that’s just a few paces from the sofa where Kratshi spends most of her day. She says she can hardly leave the house, her disability has become so bad. A small radio plays all day to keep her company.
Kratshi has previously been told she needs to see a physiotherapist to help improve her mobility. Such help could help her to get crutches or a wheelchair and the necessary medical approval to apply for a disability grant. But she’s physically unable to get anywhere, and only has her 14-year-old son to assist her.
The teenager picks up his mother’s ARVs every month and every time he brings back the same message: that the nurses need her to come in for tests. Neither they nor she know what her current CD4 count is.
It doesn’t help that Kratshi also loathes clinic visits. She says of the local Welverdiend Clinic: ‛I don’t like to go to the clinic; the nurses treat me badly and there is no privacy there.’ Her speech has been affected by the stroke and she dreads coming across an impatient nurse who will be rude and disrespectful as she struggles to make herself understood.
Even though there is a mobile clinic that services greater Khusong area once a month, Kratshi says she will not make it the few hundred metres without considerable pain. Even if she could, the mobile clinic services will not be able to draw blood or give her results.
Instead, she falls back into the sofa, turns up the radio and waits for her son to come home from school.
A message for a better future
The baby Beauty Modise is balancing on her hip won’t stop crying – the 16-month-old wants her mother’s full attention.
Modise is 24 and this is her second child. She was a mother at 19 with her first child. Unmarried and with two children before the age of 25, this wasn’t the future she imagined for herself when she was a West Rand schoolgirl.
‛I wish that I was told good information growing up. People would say things to me like, ‟Don’t go around with boys” but they didn’t say, ‟Unprotected sex can make you pregnant,”’ says Modise, who is now a volunteer with the organisation SRHR (Sexual Reproduction Health Rights).
The organisation is a coalition between the TAC and Youth Friendly Services (YFS). Its primary aim is to raise awareness about sexual health and rights for young people. They speak at schools and also campaign door-to-door.
‛It helps that we are also young people speaking to other young people. For me, the message I want to give them is that they mustn’t make the same mistakes that I made.
‛It’s not easy to be a mother when you are so young. I never went to study because there is no one else to look after my babies and today I am unemployed. The father of my children is 25 and he is also unemployed. We survive only on piece jobs and that is very hard,’ says Modise.
Currently, there are 10 SRHR volunteers for the Leratong municipal district, both men and young women. Modise says having volunteers who are young and are both male and female means they have a better reach and a better chance to reach their target audience.
She says she’s committed to working with the NGO, helping the youth in her community, saying no young person should have the same pressure she has had just as they’re about to start their adult lives.
‛I want to say to school kids, stay in school, work hard for a better education and a better future, don’t be like me,’ she says.