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Cape Town - Mina Haartnet is a 35-year-old mother who looks old beyond her years. She jokes that her daughter has aged her, but becomes serious when she says that 14 years working on a farm, and six years living in a temporary relocation area, have taken their toll.
She is among about 120 people who live in Vredebes, the area in Ceres where a seven-year-old boy and four-month-old baby were abducted from a wendy house, and raped in a field metres away.
The majority of residents are unemployed. They used to work on a nearby farm, but lost their jobs when it was sold about six years ago.
The municipality moved Haartnet and about 60 others to Vredebes until a new home for them was found. But that was six years ago.
She says they’ve all tried to get work on other farms, and are suffering with a host of chronic illnesses.
“We live in a wendy house which feels like the roof can be blown off every time the wind howls, and water constantly comes into our home from the rains. Sometimes, it floods. We’re almost always sick …We want to work, but we just can’t,” Haartnet says.
And more people move into the area almost every month. Haartnet says she has given up any hope of moving.
“I have no other place to go. The municipality says they will move us year after year, but we have given up on leaving this place.”
Haartnet had barely finished primary school when she started work on the farm.
“I was 15… I made it to Grade 9. That was the furthest anyone in my family had made it.”
The original Vredebes residents lived together in an old farmhouse when they were first moved to the area, and that was where Haartnet says she first met the family of the seven-year-old boy.
“There were a lot of people in the house, and no space, but it made us closer… We helped each other.”
They moved to wendy houses about four years ago when the farmhouse became dilapidated. Now it’s a haven for drug addicts.
“It was much better living together… We might have been able to do something about the rape, but we only found out when the police arrived. We lost that closeness we had,” said Haartnet.
She hopes her 12-year-old daughter, Leandra, will have a better life than her own. “There are a lot of bad things I have to protect her from. I will make sure she finishes school and goes to university. I won’t let her fall into the same life I did,” she says.