Joburg’s homeless forgotten

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iol news pic joburg homeless

Stock picture: The Durban city must pay hefty costs and has been given three months to provide 37 homes for displaced residents. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

Johannesburg - They live on the periphery of the city of Johannesburg, just out of reach and apparently forgotten by their fellow man and city officials.

The old Moth Hall, a derelict three-storey building in Johannesburg, stands in the shadow of the monument for fallen soldiers on Remembrance Square, just off Loveday Street.

Gone and forgotten, just like its 700-odd destitute occupants.

A Democratic Alliance delegation, headed by Johannesburg caucus leader Mmusi Maimane, visited the building on Tuesday to assess living conditions.

Maimane described what they witnessed as “shocking”, and said he would ask the SA Human Rights Commission to “start asking questions”.

Meant to provide transitional housing for desperate people streaming into the city in search of food and shelter, the building is government-owned but hopelessly neglected.

It was originally earmarked to help with an influx of migrants and to relieve pressure on the Central Methodist Church.

Inside the belly of the dank building is 49-year-old Christopher Letsielo.

A car guard who loves soccer, he is one of 14 men living in the basement.

“No women are allowed here, because they only make problems,” he says.

The tiny living area in the basement is partitioned with blankets.

The men share the little money they earn from watching and washing cars on the city's streets to buy essentials like food and toiletries.

“We have a good understanding, and we share everything,” says the grey-haired Letsielo, who came to Johannesburg to find better work.

Photos of favourite soccer players are plastered on old lockers.

Letsielo's friend Oupa Miruma also works as a car guard.

He says with a smile that the best spot to watch cars is close to a restaurant, because “when a man's tummy is full he is generous with his money”.

Miruma is a joker, but at times the despair of his plight seeps through into his conversation.

Children play on the stairway with a heap of trash visible in one corner. Other sections of the building are occupied by families.

Their “spots” are also cordoned off by dirty linen and blankets, creating an atmosphere of a claustrophobic tent-town.

A 26-year-old woman who calls herself Raesibe washes clothes on a balcony with other women.

They stay behind in the building during the day while their men look for odd jobs.

“I love Jozi, and I know that this is only temporary,” Raesibe says, smiling.

She hopes her boyfriend, who does contract work as a builder, will find a permanent job someday.

Another woman, called Pinky, sits next to Raesibe while looking after her two-month-old son Siyabonga, who was born in the building.

“Luckily the other women here helped me. I had nowhere else to go.”

She worries about a lack of sanitation in the building and admits it is not a place to raise children.

Pinky, like most people here, is desperate to break an endless cycle of poverty and unemployment.

Battling to survive just another day, she and her fellow occupants have to accept that, at least until further notice, their halfway house has become a permanent home. - Sapa


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