The affordable education loan option
Birds are squawking in the bushes around shacks number I1924 and I1925. It’s a grisly noise amid the mayhem. Flies are buzzing around in manic circles from a mess of broken things on the ground.
Just a fortnight ago, four or five men occupied these tiny dwellings. Each shanty was about 2m long and a metre wide, crammed into a plot only spacious enough for a Zozo hut.
The men are alleged to be the suspects in the kidnapping, rape and murder of Diepsloot toddlers Yonelisa, two, and Zandile Mali, three, whose mutilated bodies were found in a public toilet a few steps away. Residents in the street where the children were killed in the early hours of Tuesday, October 15, say the suspects might not have survived had they not fled these shacks before a mob set them alight.
The little girls first vanished on the Saturday, near their families’ pair of shacks in Kanana Street, about a 15-minute walk away. Both the suspects and the children lived in the notorious Extension 1, but the cousins’ house is deeper inside the filthy labyrinth of streets named after ANC heroes and royalty: David Webster, JB Marks, Sekhukhune.
It’s been claimed the main murder suspect watched the children playing in Kanana Street before snatching them. You wonder how no one noticed a man wandering down through the alleyways, climbing over relentless mounds of effluent and trash and jumping foul streams of storm water, holding hands with two little girls.
But there are so many people just like them, moving unnoticed past the many snooker joints sheltered wall-to-wall inside dark shacks, the many impromptu card tables and the many men lounging on plastic chairs in the sun, drinking beer in the middle of a weekday.
The suspects’ shanties were hacked and ripped apart after the cousins’ bodies were found, with even the zinc sheeting used as roofing twisted and torn clean from its nails.
There is purple and green Christmas tinsel curled on the floor of the shack which belonged to the man believed to be the main suspect. An empty coffee bottle neatly labelled “Sugar” lies among dozens of black-tipped ear buds in the muck. A chain and padlock droop heavily off the door.
The first shack at the entrance to the tight pack of dwellings has a sign scrawled on it, marking “Chazi’s House”. There are Mozambique telephone numbers Kokied on the door and walls, where South African cellphone numbers are scribbled in ballpoint pen.
The angle of inseparable shacks is littered with signs that the men who lived there were casual painters or worked on building sites. Paint buckets have been kicked over and spatulas, overalls and trays thrown into space. One of the men might have been a car guard as a reflective jacket still hangs off a nail on a wall.
A poster for the Grand Theft Auto game, Red Dead Redemption, is stuck to the door of one of the shacks, the menacing barrel of its gun looming out of the shadows.
In another of the shacks, two glossy advertising inserts for the luxury lifestyle estates in Chartwell and Dainfern, down William Nicol Drive, are glued on to cheap cupboards. A box has spilled its contents of worn-out shoes on to the ground.
Apparently, condoms were removed as evidence here, found among a few sweet papers ground into the grime.
There’s a spaza next to the shacks where the men lived. You can get two apples, a banana and a pear for R5 there. There’s Disprin and eye shadow and boxes of rock-bottom Sharp cigarettes.
The young woman behind the counter chews gum with her mouth open, making a loud slapping noise with her tongue. She’s got a screaming baby on her hip, his face shiny with tears, but her expression doesn’t change.
She’s got nothing to say about the cousins, who apparently stood on the spot in front of her with the main suspect, buying lollipops.
A woman with puffy red lips and a dirty dress steps out to berate the man who joins the young woman at the counter. He says he saw the girls on that Saturday. Or was it the Sunday? But, yes, he saw them.
“It was us,” says another woman, appearing from the pathway between two shacks on the other side of the spaza. She’s wearing a dark blue dustcoat with the embroidery of a pharmacy on the pocket. Her hair stands out, stiff as a mane.
“We recognised the children after we saw them in the newspaper on the Monday.” She points at herself and repeats the same words: “It was us.”
She’s furious. She slips back into the gap where she came from. Her suitcases are packed. Her shack is neat and silent. She says the police will fetch her and her friend, to put them into protective custody.
“All I can tell you, my darling… these two kids… the mother of the kids knew that guy. Maybe they were drinking together and he took them to buy sweets.”
She throws her hand out dismissively, and her words get caught up in her throat as if she wants to cry.
“This f*cking guy. That f*cking guy…” She clicks her tongue. “He came to eat in my house on the Monday night.
On Monday, he was sitting here with us and drinking. You know, the kids looked like they knew him. If a kid does not know someone, will they walk all the way with him, on the daylight?
“He was cool, a nice guy, a single guy. Quiet. From here, from Alex. A local guy. A painter.”
The suspects lived in the kind of street the people of Diepsloot Extension 1 know only too well. The stench of raw sewage stems your breathing as soon as you open your car door. Zoned as a transit camp since 1996, during the growing euphoria after the first democratic elections, this is what government carefully labels the “reception area”.
It was intended as a stopover for people from Olievenhout, Zevenfontein and the inhospitable banks of the Jukskei River, Alexandra, who were waiting for the RDP houses they had been promised during Nelson Mandela’s golden term. Seventeen years later, government has lost control over Extension 1. Apart from a few taps and a few toilets, it offers no services. There’s no electricity, and the satellite police station has been closed ever since bandits with machine guns robbed it.
The closest police command is in Extension 2, and that’s for the Metro cops. A block away from that is the shame of Diepsloot’s half-built police station. Construction started in March 2008. The Public Works Department says it’ll be finished next year. No one is holding their breath. If anyone wants the help of the police, they might have to go as far as Erasmia, outside Centurion.
Meanwhile, the sign on the trailer advertising the Community Policing Forum has faded. It looks abandoned on the periphery of the hustle and swarm of the market at the entrance to Extension 1.
Living in the transit camp is a free-for-all. If you’ve got R150, you can rent a shack from anyone fortunate enough to have got in first. The Human Settlements Department runs a rudimentary barcode system to collect data, and many of the shanties indeed have these stickers on their door, apparently giving the details of the owner of the shack – but many do not. Residents say, at election time, “ANC campaigners” show up, read the barcodes and transport them to the voting station, as if to suggest the two events are aligned.
It makes them nervous. They put their tick in the right place.
As shack after shack rose up out of the hard, dry ground, Extension 1 rapidly became a destination for nomads and migrants seeking a better life from rural areas all over South Africa, from Mtubatuba in KZN to Matatiele in the Eastern Cape. Then travellers from Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and, more recently, Ethiopia and even Bangladesh arrived with their permits, and their plastic goods and enormous bags of pap, to set up small shops. These days, six years after xenophobic violence and thuggery eviscerated Extension 1, the shopkeepers take all their groceries home with them when night falls, and bring everything back in the morning.
Last Tuesday, the street on which the suspects lived was barricaded by residents who had turned violent. Tyres were burnt, foreign-owned shops looted and journalists attacked in the overwhelming darkness of yet another Diepsloot night without lights.
That night, the mattress on which it is believed the children were raped was thrown out into the thick sludge of waste which has long collected in the middle of the lane between the rows of shacks. Its rusty coils stand out, coppery as a snare.
The fiery barricades were built metres from the toilet where the little Mali girls were dumped. Its door was removed for evidence, so now it’s like a gaping hole into the horror that lay behind it in the early hours when a member of the community went to relieve herself.
Crusts are forming on the top of four buckets of pink umqombothi outside shack E396, where the children lived in Kanana Street. The community is preparing for more rituals. All around the beer vats are shoes and clothes drying in the sun after the Malis’ shanty got drenched in Monday’s thunderstorms. Empty suitcases lie open. Another toddler wails for his grandmother’s arms.
Politicians immediately courted the family. AgangSA gave them money to bury their children. The ANC bought Coca-Cola and gave them cash. But the two parties clashed at the funeral and members of the Economic Freedom Fighters and the ANC brawled in the street after the red berets sang songs attacking President Jacob Zuma.
Next week, say the residents, life will go on in Extension 1. The sad ghosts, the new ghosts, will just slip in among them, as they always have.
Finding the courage to move on after tragic loss
It’s about 100 steps to walk from his house to where he found her.
Thabo Mcubuse strides forward in his old brown shoes, which have been polished to a yellow shine. He’s got a newspaper rolled up in one hand, and he’s chewing his bottom lip.
“I don’t walk here…” his voice trails off, then picks up again. “I prefer not to walk here.”
The stench from the raw, grey sewage is overwhelming. Where it is not seething in a pool, it twists down a rutted vein of trails between the shacks, carrying knotted bunches of trash, plastic bottles and stray playing cards with it.
Mcubuse points to a rubbish container near the corner of JB Marks Road. Ankle-high waste is overflowing on the crunching mud ahead. He stops and puts his hands out, keeping his head down. Then he walks towards it, raising his voice.
“Imagine your child in there, in that rubbish…”
He holds the rolled-up newspaper up to his face, then points angrily with it at the stinking pile.
“I jumped this water myself, to go there and pull these plastics out from the body.” He bends down to show the exact place where he found his granddaughter. He lowers his voice again.
“She was still fresh.”
Anelise Mkhondo was playing outside her grandparents’ shack, where she lived when she was stolen in Diepsloot Extension 1 on September 7, a Saturday evening.
“She was all around here… a happy, quiet, quiet, little girl. She used to come home in-between when she was playing. She would come and get water. But after 6pm, we couldn’t stay. We wanted to know, where is she. Bit by bit, we could see she is missing and we had to get to the police.”
That was Saturday night. Mcubuse says he went back to the metro police building in Extension 2 early on Sunday morning and waited there until 1pm when a patrol vehicle dropped him off at home again. He says he watched it drive away, then the family carried on searching, his wife Bongiwe in tears.
“No one helped. No one. We asked for a loudspeaker. No one had one to give us.”
On the Monday morning, Mcubuse was getting ready to go to Anelise’s crèche over the main road through Extension 1. Perhaps someone had found her. Perhaps they had taken her there. He was tying his shoelaces when a group of Community Work Programme members wearing their bright orange overalls appeared in his doorway.
“A group of wives came straight to my shack. They said: ‘What kind of clothes was she wearing?’ I explained, 1, 2, 3. They said: ‘Okay, your child is dead.’
“They were rough when they said it. They didn’t care. You can’t just say it straight: ‘Your child is dead.’ But that’s what they did.
“I nearly fell down. My wife was crying.”
Yesterday, Mcubuse hoped to travel to Pretoria Magistrate’s Court where the five suspects in the kidnapping, murders and rape of Yonelisa Mali, two, and her three-year-old cousin Zandile were set to appear. It’d cost him R50 for the journey, but he wanted to see the men he believes might know what happened to Anelise. He thinks the main suspect murdered the child his wife brought from Matatiele in the Eastern Cape to Joburg only in January.
“Last of last year, my wife went home. Things were not good there. By last year, my wife went home again, and told them we need Anelise to help us. So this year, she arrived here and we took her to crèche.”
Mcubuse – who retired in 1996 as a city bus driver – doesn’t greet the people running the shopfront opposite his shack.
“Until now, they didn’t talk to me. There’s only one lady who helped us to search. But we are blacks. We don’t help each other. You are a Xhosa, you are a Venda. We’re from all over. We don’t care.”
Propped up on a battered leather chair under a framed piece of tourist papyrus inside his shack, are infant twins Nester and Sylvester. These are Mcubuse’s other grandchildren.
“Yes, we love them. We’ve got to carry on.”
What does the ANC’s ward councillor, Rogers Makhubele, say about Extension 1?
“I have tried to communicate or ask for the public lighting through the MMC of infrastructure in the City of Joburg. I can tell you now that I am showing seriousness. This area is not being policeable. I can tell you without fear of contradiction that we will have lighting in Extension 1. We need to bring about Eskom and City Power in one room to check where will we get the source to connect, but remember, as government, we cannot put services in an unproclaimed area because then it will be called unnecessary expenditure. What happens if the people are moved?”
“I don’t ask questions as to whether somebody sells his car to whoever. There are people going around asking who wants to rent shacks. This is an informal area. I can’t ask people what they are doing or I will be intruding on their lives and that’s not fair.”
On children’s safety:
“It’s a parent’s responsibility. There’s no child in South Africa who doesn’t get a child grant, so these children can be looked after. We cannot direct all the blame to officials and institutions.”
On the filth:
“When I get into my house, I cannot expect the president to come and clean my house. We have become so very dependent on government and that is why things are getting loose. Just because I am living in an informal area, doesn’t take away self-dignity. If we are only dependent, we are going to be a losing nation.”