Nothing royal about Princess squatter settlement

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If you’ve ever wondered what “taking work home” meant for the trolley guys, well, wonder no more and visit the Princess squatter settlement, far west of Joburg.

The recyclable material they collect is stored in their yards before it reaches its final destination. In the meantime, it makes the area an eyesore.

It is a short distance from Westgate shopping mall and, as far as cleanliness goes, it is world’s apart from the spick and span retail mecca.

Littering is indiscriminate. There is not a single dustbin in sight.

Local man-about-town Mafa Nkomo says there’s a panacea for the filth – waste skips: “At least eight, one here, another one here, there, there .”

Nkomo, 56, insists on being called by his moniker, Mngomezulu, and seems to come alive at the mention of that name.

He arrived here at the squatter settlement’s inception, in 1994.

He has his finger on the pulse of the place. “The refuse trucks have stopped servicing this area because they cannot access its recesses.”

He points at the overhead electricity wires – illegally connected from the factories across the road, Albertina Sisulu Road.

They hang too low for the height of vehicles.

Besides, there is no road infrastructure and yet some residents own cars, a shiny new Renault Pathway among them.

“I knew that kid while she was still at crèche,” Mngomezulu says of the young woman behind the wheel of the Renault.

He points in the general direction of the kindergarten, behind the squatter camp.

The children go to school in far-flung areas like Bram Fischerville, Durban Deep and Kagiso.

Princess High School is just behind them. But Princess is a slum, in the league of Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya.

There are no toilets. The handful communal toilets are shared by 12 families each. This is an unwelcome luxury to many. To avoid the indignity of going into the bush to answer the call of nature, the industrious family man digs a pit latrine.

Every second resident one engages in conversation laments the lack of amenities. The only plus is the clinic, also behind the squatter camp.

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Ellisa Chirwa, 26, dresses her 2-year-old daughter Chrisette after giving her a bath.

Klaas Bodila is 60. When he came to Joburg from Limpopo, he lived on the premises of the factory that employed him in Bosmont.

“That firm closed and I found myself not only jobless, but with nowhere to stay,” says Bodila, who was at the spaza shop to buy a litre of paraffin.

“I came here in 1997. We vote but things stay the same. It is not nice to stay in a shack.”

The enterprising Mngomezulu says: “I want nothing from the government.”

He is building two rooms on his property, a brick-and-mortar structure; a rarity in this neck of the woods.

“I come from Rocklands, in Bloemfontein. I have never been happier. I will never go back to Bloemfontein. I’m here to stay.”

Molemo Dlamini, like many men here, is unemployed. His niggling worry is the crime.

The other man with him adds hastily: “There can’t not be crime. We are unemployed. The place is overcrowded. We are bound to get on each other’s nerves.”

Dlamini sees no way for development in the area because the authorities have left the residents to their own devices. Even their local councillor, he gripes, says she fears for her life and would not set foot in the squatter camp.

But Mngomezulu is quick to quash the story about the fearful Ward 83 councillor. The woman, a DA representative, was very helpful, says Mngomezulu.

“Her name was Susan Clark. She died two weeks ago. She used to park her BMW on the side of the road and walk these paths, talking to people, listening to their complaints,” Mngomezulu says.

The busiest cobbler is a Mozambican called Michael. He says he doesn’t know how to spell his surname. “I don’t know how to write; I never went to school.”

Michael says he can repair at least three pairs of shoes a day. Weekends are good for his business as he can make R150 a day.

He has children back home in Mozambique. “Yes, I do send money back home.”

Louis Chauke, 47, is a tailor. Business is slack, so he kills time making small talk with Michael.

“There is no money,” Chauke moans. “Sometimes I make R10 a day.”

He has started with upholstery now, hoping to augment his income.

Chauke has also been at Princess for 25 years.

“People are sick,” he says, when asked what his biggest concern is.

The area is a health hazard. Basic hygiene is flouted.

Men and women congregate around a card game at R15 a bet.

There are taverns galore; beer is ubiquitous. Children not at crèche or school mill about, jostling for space with dogs and men bored out of their wits or in various stages of drunkenness.

With the May 8 polls around the corner, politicians will descend on Princess and ask: what can we do for you?

It is a rhetorical question. The answers – and the needs – are glaring.

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