I had the opportunity to visit a squatter camp in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, and it is a place of poverty. The people gave the African National Congress (ANC) party the power to rule and after 21 years the poverty is shocking. It is disgraceful to walk around a place of utter filth, dirty and unsanitary conditions.
The roads are covered with sewerage spilling over from one or two hired toilets allocated to thousands of people. There is one tap supplying water to the residents of a squatter camp. The makeshift houses are crumbling down, and people are starving. Children running around totally unaware of living conditions that will impact on their lives. The stench is unbearable to visitors yet residents have become accustomed to the unhealthy smell. There is no sewerage infrastructure, no electricity and a small quantity of water.
Illegal electricity connections brighten up the dark lives of people living in wretched poverty. Dangerous and often the cause of untimely deaths, the illegal connections are a constant concern to parents who cannot stop the small children from being electrocuted. Many of the residents are unemployed and open their hearts to visitors who never actually enter the dark world of squatter camps.
Men sit playing a game of cards to pass the time away, the women try to scrounge around for food and the kids walk around bored and hungry. I was fortunate to be invited into one of the tiny makeshift homes and the residents although poor had a sense of pride. Crying out for food they willing allowed us to photograph their homes and families. Sometimes up to four or five families have no alternative but to share a home. They are friendly and excited to meet people. The women explained that they never see anybody and their world is a lonely place.
These are local people of South Africa, people who were promised a home, electricity and a better life. After 21 years, there has been no home or work thus forcing families to find a piece of vacant land and build a house from any available resources. The squatter camps do not have any facilities and school children returning home find life unbearable.
I asked one member of the group how he coped living in a squatter camp. He told me, it was worse than prison. Quickly other members wanted to share their stories of anxiety, pain, and hardship. There was no good story to tell in South Africa.
This is only one squatter camp in Soweto and there are dozens more springing up on any vacant piece of land. There are no homes for the people and the ANC government has reneged on the 1994 promise to provide homes and work for the oppressed people. For a moment, I felt utterly ashamed of being a South African. Visiting this group of people helped me to understand the plight of millions who frequently join protests for a better life.
After 21 years, the deterioration of townships in and around South Africa, is something the ANC government should be ashamed of. Allowing human beings to live in filthy and degrading conditions is nothing but selfishness. It is all about self-enrichment and throwing away the very people who gave power to the ANC. It is sad and a harsh reality that South Africa has more problems to resolve than the building of statues commemorating ANC cadres. It is a beautiful sight when entering Soweto, the roads are clean, there are street lights, trees, and flowers. The statues of Walter Sisulu and old ANC offices are remarkably clean, but a few meters away, where visitors never go, is the real story. A story of poverty and shame.
Opinion by Laura Oneale
Photos by Laura Oneale