I live on the West Rand in a place called Fleurhof. The area is still a mine dump and in the neighbouring informal settlement zama zamas (illegal miners) still dig for gold.
Before I came to Fleurhof I lived in Chiawelo, Soweto. In 2014 my mother got a call from the department of housing to tell her that the house she registered for in 1996 was finally hers. After 18 years of waiting she now had an RDP house.
She was so excited and on May 26 a big truck came and took us and our belongings to our new home. I was happy to be moving to a new place, but my mom got a big shock when we arrived. It wasn’t a house but a small three-room flat and it was right next to the old hostel. She decided she didn’t want to stay and went back to Soweto.
She wanted a proper house, not a flat. In Soweto she also had family and neighbours she had known for a long time. The community was familiar. Here she felt like a stranger. So my brother and I took the flat, where I still stay today.
People from Soweto had been allocated these RDP flats, and the people from the hostel were not happy. They felt the government wasn’t fair. They had been in the area for so long. It was their area and they would not allow people from Soweto to take their place.
There were protests and for a while I lived in fear. There were a few of us from Soweto and the hostel dwellers treated us like foreigners. At one point they threatened to break in and take all our belongs.
In 2016 things got ugly. People who were staying illegally in the hostel were informed that they must move out or be evicted. Some moved into the flats by force, so the council sent in the Red Ants to move them out.
Today there are still people living illegally in the hostel. They are not prepared to leave until the government gives them houses. Things are relatively quiet but tension between RDP flat people and hostel dwellers remains. They still feel it’s their place. We were moved here from Soweto so they see us as outsiders.
But despite this, I like it here. I have fixed up my flat nicely. I have a place of my own. It’s just a few people who are spoiling things. I try to make the residents take care of the place.
In Soweto we would sweep the yard. Here people throw rubbish outside and the municipality doesn’t clean up. So I started a clean-up campaign. If we don’t do it ourselves no one will do it for us. I clean it because I love it here. Brian and I are the only ones cleaning up. If I complain, some people say, “You are not from here. You are from Soweto. You can’t tell us what to do.”
With Brian, and my neighbours Thabang and Jananda, I have planted a vegetable garden where we grow chillies, morogo (wild spinach), peas and carrots.
The cable thief
One night during the Christmas holidays the electricity went off in the building. I thought it was load shedding but it was a cable theft at one of the main suppliers. We reported the matter to City Power, but they said they couldn’t replace the copper cables because people were away on holiday. We insisted that they make a plan because we couldn’t spend Christmas holidays without any electricity. I was also worried when I saw children playing next to where the cables had been stolen. It looked so dangerous. We kept calling and calling City Power, but no one came.
Then suddenly I saw a group of people dragging a guy who they had beaten up. They said they had found him next to the hostel and shouted that he was the guy who stole the copper cables. “Lenja! (Dog!),” they shouted. I felt sorry for him. He didn’t look like a thief to me.
A mob gathered. They were so angry. Some said, “Call the police.”
Others said, “Why? They will take him and let him out tomorrow.”
They threw stones and then someone took a tyre and put it round his neck. I heard two guys say they were going to get paraffin.
“We are tired of this copper theft,” they said.
They poured paraffin over him and the crowd moved back. They were very still. These guys asked if anyone had matches. No one replied. They were angry but no one wanted to give them matches. They didn’t want this man to die. Then a passing driver stopped and asked what was going on. He called an ambulance and the police eventually came.
The next day City Power came and fixed the electricity. Some weeks later this guy returned from hospital. It turned out he didn’t steal the cables. He was just a recycler who lived in the hostel and collected cans and plastic for a living.
This story appears in Vaya: Untold Stories of Johannesburg – The people and stories that inspired the award-winning film. R300, Bookstorm. Available in all good bookshops and online as an ebook.