Percy Viranna, 80, walks on Silver Willow Road, where informal settlements can be seen in the background.
Doctor Ngcobo  African News Agency (ANA)
Percy Viranna, 80, walks on Silver Willow Road, where informal settlements can be seen in the background. Doctor Ngcobo African News Agency (ANA)
Seetha Viranna, left, and Saras Naidoo at the Shree Ramulu Temple in Puntans Hill
Seetha Viranna, left, and Saras Naidoo at the Shree Ramulu Temple in Puntans Hill
A clean-up operation in Puntans Hill is helping to improve relations in the area.  
   Supplied
A clean-up operation in Puntans Hill is helping to improve relations in the area. 
 Supplied
Durban - The historical community of Puntans Hill, which was once referred to as the “gold mine” of Durban and the birth ground of the Telegu speaking community of Durban, has waved the white flag to its informal neighbours after years of fighting land invasions in the area.

Formal residents say Puntans Hill is the only home they know and, despite threats of land invasions, they want to live in peace and harmony instead of incessantly clashing with the shack dwellers.

Tensions heightened in 2016 when two homes were petrol bombed by informal residents, who allegedly hit back after the local municipality demolished their shacks.

At the time, they had apparently blamed the Puntans Hill’s formal residents for reporting them to authorities.

The area has since become home to over 300 shacks and is fast growing.

Last Thursday POST visited the area where children could be seen carrying buckets of water to their homes, as women hung freshly washed clothing out to dry.

Their sea of makeshift homes sat snugly next to double storey mansions and everyone seemed to be in a jovial mood.

A dilapidated, abandoned building, which was said to be a school-cum-community centre, has also become home to some of the shack dwellers.

Speaking to several residents, they admitted that it took time to make peace with the informal dwellers who lived on their doorstep. However, they have realised it is better to build relations instead of living in disharmony.

A recent clean-up operation is said to have aided both communities in moving towards fostering social cohesion and building better relations.

Komeshini Naidoo, a Silver Willow Road resident for 21 years, initiated the conversation as she believed the area was worth investing in.

“Puntans Hill was a very a prominent and safe area. My mum grew up here and regularly visited my grandparents when we were little.”

Naidoo said she initiated a clean-up project because she wanted to preserve what was left of the community and believed the joint effort would improve relations with the informal dwellers.

“I also plan on forming a committee between the formal and informal residents for us to get a better understanding of each other. The clean-up was very successful as we got to interact with the informal residents and we also visited their homes and saw their struggle without proper housing.

“We were saddened by their living conditions, so we are going to try to assist where we can. It was gratifying to have assistance from the ward councillor and the different city departments.”

Another resident, Roopney Ramnaidoo, 68, spoke about her life in Puntans Hill. She lives with her sister-in-law and two brothers in their family home. Her neighbours are informal residents and, when she steps out of her home, rows of shacks are her backyard view.

But Ramnaidoo loses no sleep over this fact, saying it will always be home to her.

“I have a great relationship with my neighbours. We have a mutual respect for each other and have no real issues.”

Asked if she ever thought of leaving, she quickly responded in the negative.

“I would never leave Puntans Hill. This area is where our family’s legacy resides. There are a few families who have left the area but they always come back to visit.”

One of her tasks in the community is cleaning the nearby Shree Ramulu Temple every Friday morning, with four other elderly women.

She is joined by Saras Naidoo, 78, who speaks of Puntans Hill with glistening eyes.

“We grew up here, we went to school here and we hope that the generations after us continue the legacy.”

Naidoo said while she understood the plight of the informal community, the burgeoning settlement was concerning.

Another resident, Shirley Naidoo, who has been living in Puntans Hill for 60years, said it was the home of her forefathers and she cannot imagine moving out of the area.

“Although our house is situated with informal settlements on either side, we have good relations with them. They are peace loving people and we would love to help them in whichever way we can. I have no intention of leaving. I have special memories of growing up in this beautiful area and it is our home.”

Spokesperson for the informal settlement Nontobeko Gebeni said she loved living in the area.

“I have been living here for 14 years and there has been no problem, the people are very nice.”

Gebeni appreciated the community’s initiative to make the area safer and cleaner.

“The community really tries to make our society a better place and are always doing their best to educate our people.”

Gebeni also knows that it’s tough living in an informal settlement, when the surrounding families are living in formal homes, and is aware that everyone can’t always be happy.

“The majority of the people have accepted us, but we do know that there are one or two people who don’t like us living there, but I believe that they understand that we have no place to go as well.”

Councillor Haniff Hassan said that it has become normal to look out of your door and see an informal settlement in the area.

He added that he does his best to make things a little easier in the area.

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