A squatter camp located in Pretoria, South Africa is experiencing serious problems and the dark side of living in these places has reared its ugly head. Children are starving, malnutrition and disease is rampant. Respiratory problems associated with Asthma and pneumonia is common among the children living in these camps. Diarrhea and untreated infections are a daily occurrence.
A census undertaken in 2011 revealed that over one million blacks lived in shacks and approximately eight thousand whites. Today these figures have changed drastically. A survey indicated that there were more than 80 thousand squatter camps around South Africa. Homeless shelters were included in this account, and it is at these places where care and support are given to needy people of any race, color or creed. The homeless shelters are usually set up by churches and charities to help the less fortunate. Squatter camps are referenced to illegal occupation of state-owned land and it is in these places where the fallen, in many cases drug addicts and alcoholics, wind up going.
Squatter camps contain a combination of Wendy houses and tents, or other informal structures. Informal structures usually become home for more than ten people at a time. Shacks in the outer yard of living houses are home to more than a million people. Various suburbs around South Africa, were once home to whites only under the apartheid government, are now turned into separate rooms, and outside buildings to accommodate up to 100 people at a time, all expected to use one bathroom facility only.
Behind the wooden shacks are ditches of stagnant dirty water where mosquitoes breed, and only two toilets for the entire camp to use. Discarded furniture and broken down cars are scattered around the place. On the grassy outskirts of government-owned land, the shacks, tents and caravans are huddled closely together leaving little room for children to play. The strain visible on the grown-up’s faces for not being able to provide for their families. Children born in the democratic South Africa try keeping the joy alive for the children, too innocent to know any different.
While most children do have the opportunity to education, the parents, under pressure to support the family, venture off to main roads and stand in desperation, begging for aid from passing motorists. Charities, churches and individuals routinely donate food and clothing to these informal settlements. On the occasions when people, bearing necessities visit the shack dwellers, the exciting young faces of children light up with joy.
The squatter camps are not only home to the poor who have nowhere else to go, it is also home to the drug addicts, the mentally ill and deranged people, the misfits of society and alcoholics. People abandoned by society who once lived a normal family life are now forced to live in squalor conditions.
Many of the squatter camp dwellers once had a job and a decent place to live. Parents were able to support and look after their children, but now, work is scarce and the new laws make it impossible for many people to find work. The enforcement of affirmative action and black economic empowerment (BEE)have forced companies to give preferences which make it nearly impossible for some to be even considered for employment. This harsh reality has taken a toll on the squatter camp dwellers, and increased racial tensions considerably.
Parents watch helplessly as their children are dying because the laws barring some people from the job market. The BEE amendment Act of 2011 has barred white women and disabled women from the public and private sector job requirement in South Africa. It is just one of the factors contributing to the deteriorating situation.
In the squatter camps, the parents cuss and curse the political changes which have done little to actually address the equality between citizens which they are purported to support, and watch helplessly as their families live in squalid conditions. Optimism is gone, depression is the new way of life and the constant issue of committing suicide is not far from the minds of many.
There are some eternally optimistic people who hold it all together and grow vegetable gardens, spreading their love among the down-and-out neighbors of the squatter camps. Visitors to these sites often hear woeful tales from the residents and their harrowing cry for a better life. Often people complain of the unsanitary conditions and safety issues around the camp. People living in the appalling conditions are not without the criminal element lurking around. Theft and violence have been become a regular occurrence.
This is a continued nightmare for parents who desperately cry out for help as they watch their child dying because medication is not available. The unpleasantness of living in the polluted places and not being able to change the condition often leads to the cause of depression and hopelessness.
Tucked away in a grimy corner of Pretoria, South Africa the squatter camp dwellers continue to reach out for help. Struggling to survive, and unknown to many, their plights are a constant reminder of the poverty rising among the people of South Africa. What has become of the people who once smiled and loved life is an issue that
By Laura Oneale