File photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters.
File photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters.

#AlexShutdown: ‘No chopper can land in Alexandra, there’s no space'

By Don Makatile Time of article published Apr 14, 2019

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As the two elephants, which are the political parties, fight, the grass - the community of Alexandra - suffers.

After much toing and froing, both President Cyril Ramaphosa and Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba finally made it to the historic township north of the city.

Ramaphosa, who came clad in party colours, was met by multitudes of supporters who gathered at the parking lot of the stadium on Thursday, while Mashaba met only community leaders at an undisclosed location on Friday.

As May 8 polls loom on the horizon, their game is politics.

Speaking in Sotho, Ramaphosa added the populist line: “The mayor must come here. It is the community of Alexandra that wants him. But he blames the ANC. How?”

The president knew only too well that the DA mayor would not have been welcomed with a bunch of red roses had he descended on Alexandra, popularly known as “tounship”, a corruption of the English “township”.

Earlier in the week, the mayor had begged to piggyback on the president’s entourage to the troubled township, where battles have been raging between the community and local authorities over complaints that outsiders are cramping Alexandra with informal dwellings.

By Tuesday, Mashaba was still awaiting word from the Presidency to see if he’d be accommodated.

The man who arrived in Alexandra on Thursday was the ANC president, urging the agitated community to vote, not the head of state they had been calling for.

It is easy to empathise with those community members who, when they left the stadium after the president’s speech, felt their time had been wasted.

For the two days both the ANC and the DA were in town, the problems in Alexandra persisted.

The township has run out of space. There are no pavements on the streets.

People’s dwellings, especially of the corrugated iron variety, are perched close to the roads.

In one small step, a man of normal height is able to straddle both the veranda and the tar road with no great effort.

Basna Ramokoka says he fought running battles in the streets with the apartheid police and army during what is colloquially known as the Six Days war in the 1980s.

“We wanted the army and the police out of the township because they were killing people. We formed self-defence units against the system.

“When we were planning to attack Sandton and such white places as Lombardy, the clergy - among them Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Reverend Sam Buti - stopped us. Winnie Mandela came here in a helicopter.”

He makes his point: “Today, no chopper can land in Alex. There’s no space.”

Ramokoka, who says he went to school with Orlando Pirates chairperson Irvin Khoza, gives all this history to make one simple point: we, the indigenous residents of Alexandra, do not have houses while foreigners own houses.

It is a common thread that runs through the gripes of all those who offer to give interviews.

A small group of marchers approach the venue of the president’s speech carrying placards. Among these one reads: “Ward 105 is not a dumping area.”

A high premium is placed on space in Alexandra, and it is a luxury the community does not have.

Every available piece of land has an informal house plonked on it the minute it is available.

Several times in the past, shacks on the banks of the Jukskei River, which runs through the township, were demolished and the people relocated.

Fast-forward to 2019 and the river bank is chock-a-block with new shacks, sagging with new life.

Vasco, the main road leading from the township proper to Tsutsumani, is a river of sewage and has been so for months, the residents complain.

Tsutsumani itself was constructed in 1999 to house the athletes who were competing in the All Africa Games, after which the 1700 freestanding, semi-detached and simplex units were to be taken over by Alexandra residents who had been on the waiting list for houses.

Among the residents’ complaints is that foreign nationals own homes in Tsutsumani while the locals languish in the backyard rooms of the township.

In television interviews after his supposedly secret meeting with councillors of Friday, Mashaba said Ramaphosa had been disingenuous by promising houses to the people of Alexandra, let alone making the same promise to the whole country.

The 2001 Alexandra Renewal Project, worth R1.3 billion, that was meant to alleviate the housing backlog in the township is today spoken of only in hushed tones.

No one knows what happened to the money.

Thabo Motloung, community liaison officer of the ARP - the Alexandra Renewal Project - admits that property, and its return to its rightful owners, remains a niggling worry.

Motloung says the expropriated property still shows at the deeds office that it is under the City of Joburg. Individual landowners were dispossessed of their right to the property under apartheid.

This vacuum thus created allowed wayward tenants to move in to people’s property to erect shacks. The anarchy continues up to this day.

One guy who insisted on not giving his name for fear of reprisals, says his own family benefited when households were each given R50000 in the 1980s “to wash their hands for the property they lost”.

After the money was doled out, the families did not leave their properties - they only lost the title deeds.

“What then happened was that everyone was told there was no landlord in Alex. It was a free for all. People erected shacks on the properties of others. Those who complained were asked to produce the title deeds. They had nothing to show.”

He says he continues to fight off prospective tenants who often come unannounced “with material in vans and trucks, to set up shacks in my yard”.

Just last week, he says, he fended off a family from Jane Furse, Limpopo, that wanted to erect their own shanty in his yard “where my mother still stays”.

Neither Ramaphosa nor Mashaba came close to addressing the nub of the discontent in the township - that Alexandra is congested.

Perhaps it is too unpalatable a fact to tie in with their electioneering message.

Meanwhile, they will continue speaking past each other as the population in Alexandra explodes.

Man, goat and litter jostle for the little available space that no shack can be erected on.

Sunday Independent

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