Motsaoledi is a collection of ramshackle tin shacks without electricity or in-house water. It is one of the many squatter camps – or informal settlements – as they are officially known – still remaining in Soweto. The South African Government is committed to eradicating them, but progress is slow.
The shacks are basic with no running water or toilets – heating is often by dangerous oil or butane filled stoves. The huts, made from wood or corrugated iron, are cold in winter and very hot in summer.
Inhabitants are creative in keeping out the drafts – and creating a more attractive environment, using makeshift wall-coverings out of newspapers, magazines, posters and advertising material along with their decorative personal effects.
There is an estimated 1300 hundred plots in Motsaoledi with as many as three shacks on each. The illegal settlement backs on to the 5-meter high concrete block walls of a prominent Soweto landmark, the Baragwanath Hospital, named incidentally after a Cornish gold-miner who donated his land.
“We try and make sure that all plots are the same size and the streets are kept to a standard width”, Siphiwe said. Interestingly, each shack has a painted number so that mail can be addressed to residents and collected from the nearby Diepkloof post office. Siphiwe added, “Despite our efforts, we can’t get the local politicians to come here and talk to us. We don’t want this settlement to be bulldozed. We want to stay here”.
Meanwhile, illegal ‘tapping’ into passing electricity supplies is commonplace. The electricity companies respond by turning off what little lighting there is, usually sited on staleg type towers, making it almost totally dark at night and increasing the opportunity for crime. Car batteries are otherwise used to power TVs, radios and fridges.
The only water available is one standpipe per street. Little help when a potential high-risk paraffin fire becomes reality. Paraffin is universally used for cooking and heating instead of the old wood-burners, and shack-fires are a deadly possibility.
“For many in Motsaoledi paraffin is a necessity they can hardly afford”, said George Mdaweni a local resident. A family of four clearly financially struggling invited me into their home. Made of corrugated iron sheets and wooden panels, with inside walls adorned with newspapers as wallpaper, the shack was typical in its layout. A bed with coverings one end – a table and chairs, storage cabinet and cooking stove (gently cooking [i]uputo[/i], a mix of maize and sour milk) the other. It was dim inside, with only one bare light-bulb hanging from the ceiling by dubious looking wiring.
Despite the poverty, cleanliness is an obsession. Lines of washing resembling colourful bunting are everywhere. Children go off to school in immaculately washed and ironed uniforms and old ladies still wear traditional dress. Yards are swept daily and rubbish is collected, bagged and sold for recycling.
The standpipe water is clean and potable, but there is still no sewage. Rats are never far away occasionally biting sleeping babies – a constant worry for mothers. Every plot in Motsaoledi has a modern chemical outside toilet provided by a German charity. The council pumps them clean every week as part of the deal. Many residents know that underneath the loo is where the rats live. And, those rats potentially bring disease.
Joanna Nyalugu stores recycling bags in her front-yard. She gets about 25 rand for each large bagful split into cans, plastics and metals. “We want to keep our community clean,” said Siphiwe, “we don’t want piles of rubbish, and recycling provides some income”.