Cape Town - It’s just past midday and, as the wind sweeps loose sand and stones across a dilapidated park, a teenager stands among roaming toddlers waiting for her little sister to swoop down the slide into her arms.
It may seem like an ordinary day, but for the 16-year-old it’s another spent worrying about whether, in life, there will be a safe landing for her.
It’s been 20 years since the advent of South Africa’s hard-won democracy, but the teenager doesn’t even go to school – because none of the schools near her home has space.
“We moved to the camp from Woodstock because the rent became too high,” says the girl, who has been living in Blikkiesdorp for two years.
“I would have been in Grade 8 and it’s not nice for me, because I’m missing out on schoolwork,” she adds, staring at the ground.
At the beginning of the month, the girl attended night school at Leiden High, but left because the coursework was at a Grade 11 level.
Now she does household chores and helps her mother look after her four siblings and her sister’s 11-month-old baby.
“For me, it was better living in Woodstock than here. Here there are shootings, rapes, and they rob people, even children.”
Her mother, she said, agreed it was no place to raise a child, and that her brothers had become badly behaved.
“I see all the bad things happening around me in this place, and children are sometimes neglected by their parents.”
Her dream was to become a social worker.
In Delft’s Section 9, three teenage girls in Grade 8 at Simunye High tell a similar story.
“We’re not safe. A week ago, a three-year-old was raped down there,” said one, pointing to an area down the road.
The trio said pupils were robbed by gangs.
“Lots of children drop out and end up doing drugs like dagga and tik,” said another.
To keep busy after school, they play netball or soccer at a nearby community hall, but the girls said more facilities were desperately needed to keep children off the streets.
Parks were ruined by people who stole the equipment to sell as scrap.
They hoped to see a clean-up of the area, housing, more jobs, and bursaries for young people.
But at the top of their personal wish lists was finding a home away from Delft.
Faced with housing backlogs, rising crime, social ills and a spate of child rapes, Delft’s ballooning population is demanding better service delivery. The damage caused by residents during protests bears testimony to their frustration.
Rows over housing allocations also keep many Delft communities in limbo.
Andrew Badenhorst, 50, who moved from Belhar six years ago, said residents had no clue to whom the land in Blikkiesdorp belonged.
He said the crime rate was rocketing with a constant influx of people. He estimated that 15 000 people lived in Blikkiesdorp, which had about 2 000 structures.
Children, who accounted for most of the population, were most at risk.
“Many of them don’t go to school and end up abusing alcohol and drugs, and get lured into the gangs. Kids sell their bodies for R20 for tik.”
Some people desperate for money sold their structures.
“Then they go back to the street. Our biggest concern used to be housing, but we get discriminated against because backyard dwellers and people from settlements like Freedom Farm and Malawi Camp are getting preference.
“As we are stuck here, at least help us to fight the high crime rate. Must more people die before the city wakes up?”
A traffic light in Symphony Way, torched during a housing protest the previous night, marks a smaller informal settlement named Tsunami.
Resident Thobeka Dyasi, 29, said she was even prepared to continue living in a shack – “away from here”.
Danger lurked around every corner in Tsunami.
“We don’t have toilets, and it’s not safe going to the bushes, because you can get raped or robbed. I’m even scared now just having my phone on me here in the open,” Dyasi said.
She worked in the area as a carer and the only advantage to living in Delft was saving on travelling costs.
With winter approaching, there is the fear that rain will exacerbate their problems.
Of most concern was that the municipality wanted to evict them, Dyasi said. “One official even threatened us and said they would force us out by bulldozing our shacks. We’re so scared, as we don’t know where we will go.”
Blikkiesdorp is in ward 106, which includes parts of Delft South, Leiden, The Hague and Cape Town International Airport. The 2011 city census found Delft’s population was 152 030.
“Delft is like a dumping site. Blikkiesdorp and Tsunami’s people were dumped here, and I don’t think the city’s going to give them housing any time soon because it is looking at backyard dwellers. The growing number of people also fuels crime,” said Reginald Maart, chairman of the Delft Community Policing Forum.
The community’s frustrations were “high”, and with the dire socio-economic situation, more input was needed from government departments to uplift the area and combat crime.
“They need to look at housing for the poor, as there’s no space for children to play. We have six policing sectors, but only one vehicle for each. Resources are poor.”
Maart has written to Western Cape police commissioner Lieutenant-General Arno Lamoer asking him to deploy more police and vehicles.
On the question of child safety, he said: “From the time school closes until the parents come home from work, children can be seen wandering the streets, and that’s when drug-lords get hold of the kids and build relationships with them, luring them into a life of crime.”
Delft needed “drastic change” to create a safer environment, Maart said.
“When we have community meetings, you often don’t see ward councillors, or they are there for only a few minutes, then leave. Social workers are not visible enough.”
Ward 106 councillor Khayalethu Makeleni said councillors did not receive invitations to these “alleged” meetings, and did not have a relationship with the community policing forum.
He agreed the community was “angry” and felt police did not have effective child protection plans.
Other problems Makeleni listed were high unemployment, alcohol abuse and conflict over housing allocations.
In working through housing lists to approve residents for the Delft Integrated Housing Project, in which 2 407 homes are to be built, it had often been found that false information had been given, he said.
“Some backyarders speak of being in Delft since 1981, but our argument is that Delft was not even here at that time.”
Some people living in the free homes provided as part of the controversial N2 Gateway housing project wanted to be included in the new development because they did not regard their “alternative” structures as proper houses.
The Gateway project has delivered more than 14 000 free homes but, after nearly nine years, has yet to be completed.