A shattered community tries to recover a lifeComment on this story
Cape Town -
It’s quiet in the front room of the Nomzamo Community Hall.
Quieter, at least.
Outside this room are dozens of mattresses and hundreds of people, wrapped up in blankets and eating milk and instant porridge from polystyrene bowls.
Toddlers run around and collide with legs. Men play cards. Children play checkers.
But in here, comrades speak in low, serious voices in a circle around Ses’kona leader Andile Lili, known more commonly as one of leaders of the so-called poo protesters.
“Our colleagues are facing eviction now - right now, in Chatsworth, in Malmesbury,” he is saying.
There is a pile of mattresses in the corner of the room, but the only person sleeping there is 18-month-old Anda Ndevu. Her big sister Christina, 3, is somewhere in the hall beyond.
Her mother Patience Ndevu, 33, sits next to the mattress, wrapped in blankets. You can’t tell at first glance that she’s almost ready to give birth.
The Ndevu family is one of 849 newly homeless Nomzamo residents, after their shacks were demolished on Monday and Tuesday, and who now stay at the hall.
And in three weeks, Anda will have a baby brother.
Their shack had been overcrowded. Ndevu was there. And her sister. And her three children. And their father. And her mother, visiting from the Eastern Cape to help in the last stage of her pregnancy.
Willowvale: that was home, out near Butterworth, only further. But there were no jobs, and Ndevu didn’t have a matric. So in 2010, she left, heading west for work.
For a while she found a job as a fruit picker on a farm, but then one day she woke up lying on the floor with her neighbours standing over her. She’d had a seizure.
The doctors said it was epilepsy and farm work was ruled out. So she tried her hand as a domestic worker, two days a week for all the cleaning and washing and ironing of a couple in a big house near Somerset West.
“There were maybe 11 or 12 different rooms - two people, in such a big house.”
She was let go when she had a seizure on the job.
With no money and no qualifications, she moved her family into the small shack in Nomzamo three months ago. The metal sheets were rusted, and when it rained the water came right through.
Ndevu could keep nothing clean or dry.
“It was not nice, especially for the children..”
And when she saw her clothes lying in the mud as the shack came down on Monday, it was painful.
“Sho, it was a disaster. When the policemen came to where we used to live, they kicked me out of the shack. They told me to go outside without my clothes, without anything. They kicked me.”
By Tuesday, the pain in Ndevu’s side hadn’t stopped.
It felt like a migraine down the right side of her body.
Her family had arrived at the community hall, but she could barely walk.
They called an ambulance.
“They told me the pain was in my ribs, maybe a crack.”
And then they saw her mother. Diabetic and with high blood pressure, the old woman was clearly unwell. They put her in the ambulance and took her to the hospital, leaving Ndevu behind.
In the front room, Ndevu watches her little girl sleeping.
Her husband is at the hospital, looking after her mother. She cannot leave the community centre. Who else will look after the children?
She sits beside the mattress and calls on help from other women when she needs to go to the bathroom. Her side still hurts. But the baby - the baby’s kicking.
“They say it’s a boy.”
On the other side of the room, however, another woman who suffered a miscarriage during the evictions tells an even more tragic story. She is a tall, young, tired woman named Mandisa, 32, who doesn’t want her surname used.
Mandisa was part of the protests on Monday, throwing rocks at the police and running from their rubber bullets. All she’d saved from the shack she shared with her boyfriend were some important documents, like her ID book, but at least this time she wasn’t arrested. She’d had to spend a night in the police cells in Strand in February, the last time they tried to evict Nomzamo residents.
It was around the same time that she found out she was pregnant.
“I was so happy; it was going to be my first.”
But by Monday evening she couldn’t focus. Her head was swimming, her breath catching in her throat.
Her mother was back in the Eastern Cape. Mandisa hadn’t even told her she was pregnant.
She wouldn’t approve: Mandisa was unmarried and unemployed. She was hoping somebody might take her on as a cashier.
Then, she’d wait until she was so far along in her pregnancy that when she showed up in King William’s Town her mother wouldn’t be able to chase her away.
She was in the hospital bathroom waiting to be examined when she felt the dizziness come over her again.
Hormones, said the doctor.
He couldn’t say exactly how it happened, but Mandisa was too stressed, her hormones were all over the place.
She was on a drip now, after her fainting spell. She’d dragged herself to the bathroom door and banged against the floor until a cleaner found her there.
She still felt so weak, and the doctor was trying to tell her something.
The baby - the baby was gone.
Back in the Nomzamo community hall, Mandisa’s smile is threatening to fail her.
She has nothing but an ID book and the clothes on her back. She looks on as two toddlers push around a cardboard box.
“I’d like to be a mother,” she says.