Twenty-five women and their 18 children moved into a community hall in Booysens after their squatter camp went up in flames and they lost their homes. Picture: Siphumelele Khumalo.
Twenty-five women and their 18 children moved into a community hall in Booysens after their squatter camp went up in flames and they lost their homes. Picture: Siphumelele Khumalo.

For women taking shelter at a hall after their shacks burnt down, privacy is a myth, feeling unsafe is the order of the day

By Siphumelele Khumalo Time of article published Aug 27, 2021

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Johannesburg - Thirty-four years ago, Fikilephi Dladla left her home in KwaZulu Natal and made her way to Johannesburg in search of a better life.

However, despite three decades in the City of Gold, the better life that Dladla left her home for remains a pipe dream.

Today, at the age of 53, Dladla has no job and after many years of living in one squatter camp after the other, she is now forced to live with 24 other women in a hall. This was after fire broke out at a squatter camp she was living in recently in Booysens, south of Joburg. She managed to get away with only the clothes on her back.

She said their councillor then advised them to go and live at hall in the area.

Dladla shares the space with 24 other women and 18 children aged between 7 months and 16 years.

While the people staying there at least have a roof over their head, they don’t like their living arrangements.

The hall is cold. There is no privacy as the beds are in close proximity to each other. Next to each bed are pots, cooking utensils, groceries and other belongings of the women.

Many said they were tired of living in this manner and were desperate for a life altering move that would restore their dignity.

Dladla, who has two children aged 16 and 18, also complained about fights that occur that break out between the women which she said leave her with no peace of mind.

"Some of the women living here do not want to participate in the cleaning and it is disgusting. Others get drunk and just start fighting for no reason, there is no peace of mind."

"I don't have anything and my 18-year-old son is currently staying with a friend back at the squatter camp. He is currently trying to salvage our lives by rebuilding the shack. He passed his matric with flying colours but is struggling to find employment. All we are asking for is to live as normal people," she said.

Busangane Sithole, 42, who is also from KwaZulu Natal, is another one who finds herself stuck at the hall after her plan for a better life in Joburg failed to materialise.

Sithole said she felt “extremely unsafe and vulnerable” at the hall and was unhappy about conditions under which she and the others live.

"Before I started living in the hall, I was at the nearby squatter camp (Boyseens). After it burnt several times early this year, I am now scared to go back and we were instructed to come to the hall by the councillor after a fire broke out again (and our shack burnt down).

“There are over 20 of us living here with our children and it's stressful as we have experienced three break-ins and everything of ours was stolen. When this happened the third time, we broke bottles and tried to fight the thugs off," said Sithole.

"As you're aware, we are in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. It is unhygienic for us to all be crammed like this as it (coronavirus) may spread and kill all of us. Some ladies here have piece jobs and the children need to get ready for school all at once. All I am asking is for the councillor to assist us so we can also live as decent human beings."

Thobeka Nkalanga, the secretary of African Youth Ladder Organisation which was founded this year, said they recently assisted the women by making a generous donation of clothing and shoes.

Nkalanga said the donation was not just about Women's Month but was also about giving the women living at the hall a voice and hope.

"As a woman, I understand what most go through and it is never easy to put yourself in a position to ask for help. I always say that women are the closest thing to God and when we empower women - we empower a sister, a mother. We empower somebody that is going to help someone else down the line.

“I know that most of them are there because of circumstances that no woman ever wants to find themselves in. It's important to assist them because we understand what it feels like to be powerless and feel like you've had so much taken from you so that's why we give them the little that we can.”

Nkalanga also said that the organisation was accepting all types of assistance and would appreciate it if people could extend their generosity by lending a helping hand.

Those willing to donate and help the women can call 074 518 3605.

The Star

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