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Johannesburg - Dirty children playing on the road and oblivious to the dangers posed by the exposed electricity wires that are not dug deeply into the ground.
Stagnant and dirty water mixed with sewage on the side of the road, and both pedestrians and motorists making sure they avoid walking or even driving in it.
Potholes so big and constantly filled with water and making the road impassable, forcing motorists to drive on the pavement.
This is Serema Road in Thokoza, Ekurhuleni, and this busy road is the one that takes you to Yonelwa Zozo’s house.
Born on November 1, 1994, Yonelwa is a born-free, and is almost as old as our democracy.
Those her age are in most cases automatically seen as privileged kids whose concerns are not the same as their parents. It is assumed they do not have to struggle like them and that theirs is an easy life.
Thanks to democracy, nothing stops them from reaching for the stars, attending the best schools, attending any university they wish and following whatever career they want to follow.
Called “Mandela’s children”, they are always interviewed at their posh schools and suburban homes. They are always on TV speaking in the accents of those privileged to be educated in Model C or private schools.
But there are many others like Yonelwa. Her life, her dreams and aspirations are hidden from the world. What she calls home is a tiny rented shack at the back of someone else’s house. It has no windows and has leaks all over, making sleeping difficult in rainy weather.
The door has come loose and leans against the wall during the day and is plonked on the threshold at night and pressed shut. The family then take pieces of rags and put them underneath and on the sides to prevent the cold, and also snakes, rats and insects from crawling into the house.
The shack may be tiny but it is home to nine people: Yonelwa, her parents, twin brother, older brother, older sister, her son, her niece and nephew.
Until recently, 10 people were living in the shack but her older lesbian sister, Duduzile, was found murdered at her neighbour’s house in what is believed to have been a “corrective rape” attack.
The shack has one bed and one sponge mattress, and it is crowded with bodies everywhere at night. The mornings, Yonelwa says, are a nightmare.
Her father, who is a gardener, wakes up and heats water. He then goes to the tiniest part of the shack, which acts as a kitchen.
He draws the curtain separating the kitchen from the bedroom and puts his bath water on the floor next to the stove, plates and kitchen utensils, and washes himself.
When he is done, he heats water for Yonelwa’s mother, who is a domestic worker. After her bath, it is Yonelwa’s turn. She and her twin brother are in matric this year. She has a bath and wakes her brother. Her older sister wakes up her seven-year-old son and gets him ready for school.
While many born-frees her age long for things such as travelling the world and owning the latest gadgets, all that Yonelwa longs for is some privacy. It’s something she has never had.
“There’s no privacy in this house - during bath time we all see each other naked. On a typical morning, one will be having a bath, the other one will be not far away eating breakfast and the other will be leaning against the door getting dressed.
“I’m in matric and need to study. I have to wait until everyone has gone to bed to study and do my homework, regardless of the time. We have a library in the neighbourhood but it closes at 4pm, while our school dismisses us at 3pm,” she says.
“Our books have been eaten by rats, so my brother and I put them in plastic. When everyone has gone to bed, my brother and I go to the kitchen.
“He sits on a bucket while I sit on my son’s plastic chair. We put our books on our laps and study and do our homework,” she says.
Living in a shack is all that Yonelwa knows. The only time she slept in a brick and mortar structure was in January last year when she was kept overnight at her local clinic after giving birth.
Her boyfriend, the father of her son, also lives in a shack.
After applying for an RDP house twice in the past, they have given up.
Like many teenagers, Yonelwa knows the results of unprotected sex. But still, she fell pregnant in 2011. She knows that she deeply disappointed her parents and is scared that the cycle of poverty might continue with her son, the way it did with her and her parents.
Unlike her parents, she may have not have been born under the brutal apartheid regime, but she does not see any difference between her life and theirs.
She may be a born-free, she says, but she is still trapped in poverty and misery like her parents.
“I might have freedom now, but I am not free. I’m miserable. People look down on us because we live in a shack. Sometimes they say hurtful things, saying we don’t have a house yet we have children.
“It’s not true that children born in 1994 and after have a better life compared to their parents. Maybe some do, but it started with their parents. Mine are poor, and their poverty extended to us.”
However, Yonelwa believes that education might finally provide an escape from the clutches of poverty that have gripped her family since she was born, resulting in a better life one day.
“The future looks promising because I’m studying and cope well at school, regardless of everything.”