Paralysed by poverty

Durban - Most of the parties contesting the elections are claiming to have presented manifestos that are pro-poor.

The DA’s promise to create six million “real” jobs is a direct response to the country’s unemployment crisis.

Xolisile Khalakahla sweeps away water from in front of her shack in the Isipingo transit camp, where she was moved before the World Cup. She has little faith in politicians' promises, but believes it is important to vote. Photo: Zanele Zulu. Credit: INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

The ANC has sought to highlight all the government’s achievements over the past 20 years.

The dominant party’s message is simple: while there is a lot still to do, much has been achieved and South Africans should celebrate this “success story”.

Politicians are aware that ignoring the poor will be a costly mistake in a country where unemployment is hovering, officially at least, at 24 percent.

And so they have come to the informal settlements in their German-made sedans and witnessed how easy it is to draw thousands to rallies on weekdays.

The politicians have seen supporters fighting over party T-shirts and food parcels, because for many a free T-shirt is the only piece of new clothing they will possess.

And so the country’s squatter camps have - over the past few months - become the battlefield for proxy wars between political parties.

In the DA-run Western Cape there has been a number of the so-called “poo protests”, as the residents of informal settlements marched - with bucket- loads of faeces - to the city of Cape Town, demanding better sanitation.

Elsewhere, especially in ANC run municipalities, protests over water, sanitation and housing have sprung up with some ending in violence.

These are the poor who only care about receiving the basics, who say they have yet to reap the fruits of democracy.

Xolisile Khalakahla lives in a shack at the Isipingo transit camp.

She was living in an informal settlement in Umlazi in 2009 when she was moved to make way for developments for the 2010 World Cup.

Moving to a transit camp was supposed to to be a temporary arrangement. At the time she was promised she would receive a house within 18 months.

Five years later the country is once again preparing to go to the polls, but Khalakahla has yet to receive keys to the house she was promised.

Life at the transit camp has not been kind and residents have on many occasions taken to the streets in protest.

When the Daily News visited the settlement after a rainy morning, Khalakahla was sweeping away water in front of her shack.

“People put stones and wood planks to step on when there is water. All passages in these shacks are like this,” she said, pointing at the water running between her shack and her neighbours.

Green water marks visible on the walls of the shack showed that even after light rain the settlement was left waterlogged.

“We almost drowned here when there was heavy rain that caused floods. I lost groceries and furniture that had been damaged by the rain,” said Khalakahla. About 750 families in the settlement share 30 toilets and bathrooms made from shipping containers.

“Some of the toilets here are facing directly to people’s houses. When a toilet is blocked… the waste ends up overflowing to people’s doorsteps. We see human waste and jump over it almost every day.

“You cannot put so many people in one area to share so few toilets. These are inhumane conditions we live under,” she said.

Rats “as big as a cat” are rife and illegal electricity connections snake down most passages.

“You cannot walk here when it is raining with live wires everywhere. There are children here who have been killed by these nyoka-nyoka (illegal electricity connections).”

Khalakahle said she would exercise her right to vote, but had little faith in politicians’ promises of a better life.

An Economic Freedom Fighters supporter stopped by while Khalakahla was being interviewed, inviting her to the party’s rally.

Khalakahla replied: “Is (Julius) Malema going to be there? I want to ask him myself if he is going to get us out of here and give us jobs.”

She said she was not sure who she would vote for.

“I don’t have a job and voting means nothing if I am going to be staying in this place until next year,” said Khalakahla.

“I will vote. They say it’s important and we would have power in South Africa. Even if it’s useless, it is important,” Khalakahla said.

Many others in similar situations share Khalakahla’s sentiments, but they are hoping their votes will count this time around.

If not the poor of South Africa will continue to revolt and soon T-shirts, food parcels and more empty promises might not be enough to silence them.

Promises, promises: