Harsh winter for CTN shack dwellers

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shack sleepover INLSA A resident of Joe Slovo informal settlement sits in front of an open oven to keep warm during the cold winter nights. Picture: Neil Baynes

My expectations of freezing to death were not fulfilled as the Cape Town winter seemed to have a little mercy as I prepared to spend the night in a cold shack this week.

The skies were clear, a quarter-moon one of many light sources in the congested neighbourhood. The Joe Slovo informal settlement in Langa was to be my home for a night in one of the coldest winters in a decade.

Having to dart across muddy terrain during the rainy season is something the residents of Joe Slovo are specialists at, but my black boots quickly became brown with mud.

In the settlement, corrugated iron sheets are carefully tacked together to make makeshift homes.

During the day the glistening sheets absorb the winter sun, but that soon changes come nightfall. Many residents rely on paraffin heaters and stoves to keep out the cold.

Student Nomtandazo Mde, 20, has been living in the informal settlement since she was two, but still isn’t used to the cold. She said that this was one of the coldest winters she could remember.

Mde shares the small shack with two family members and likes to get out of the house to keep warm.

Unwinding with friends at the local pool bar or taking a stroll to a braai area called “Long Street” are some of the ways she forgets about the cold.

Heading home from the pool hall, she points to a gigantic puddle just outside a neighbour’s door.

“They should get a boat here for us, my friend,” she joked.

Inside there is a mouldy smell indicating that the shack has been flooded repeatedly.

I watch as neighbour Nomhle Ndwayi, a domestic worker, sits on her bed preparing a hot water bottle while her daughter huddles in front of an open oven to keep warm.

Ndwayi, who has been living in Joe Slovo since 2005, says the only good thing about living in a shack is that you can hear the neighbours’ conversations and know what they are cooking.

“We are always uncomfortable this time of year,” Ndwayi said.

Mde and I trek back home, passing rats that could be easily mistaken for small cats.

We find the bed occupied by other family members, which forces us to sleep on a single mattress on the floor, with Mde’s one-month-old baby, Alatha.

The icy air seeping into the shack through many small gaps made falling asleep difficult, but I was reassured by Mde that the night would pass quickly.

“You will be fine, my friend. Alatha and I will keep you warm - that’s what we do,” Mde mumbled as we slowly fell asleep. - Cape Argus

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