By Vanessa Burger
12 June 2016
“They want us to keep voting for Mzobe’s cabinet while they keep us living in shit like pigs. If my kids get sick from this, can I take them to the ANC? No, I must sort it out myself!”
– angry Glebelands resident
Block R residents have lost track of how many times the ground floor pipe has burst. The problem was first reported on 5 December 2015, then again on 6 February 2016, on 19, 21 and 31 March and many, many times since then. The no-name-brand contractor clearly did not have much faith in his own handiwork either. After his last flying visit, he did not bother filling in the hole after repairing the leak and has now left the pipe exposed for over a month in a crater of rubble, no doubt for ease of access during his next visit. As the pipe is leaking again, that should be soon.
Again, a stinking stream of sludge snakes its way from the three blocked drains at Block S, down the hill, past Block R, towards Block Q – itself still a quagmire of permanently running taps, broken pipes, blocked sewers and overflowing drains. While women do washing at ground floor communal sinks, straddling streams of suppurating rubbish, children play among stinking rivulets of unmentionable grey slush. Just over a month ago, a resident was hospitalized with meningitis. Combined with – at best – intermittent solid waste removal, widespread poverty, overcrowded living conditions and immune systems compromised by a high prevalence of TB and HIV – Glebelands is an epidemic in waiting.
With less than two months before the 2016 local government elections, when communities across South Africa are responding with fury to their not-so-democratically elected representatives’ serial failure to share their ‘better life’ with all – the cynical restraint with which Glebelands residents survey their foul living conditions masks a deep-rooted rage.
“We cannot win against these politicians,” said one man, shrugging as he turned away from the cesspit he calls home. Then he ticked off on his fingers all the times local government officials had announced vast hostel upgrade budgets…he soon ran out of fingers.
“We still aren’t seeing any of this money down at our level. Our lives haven’t changed since the Boers,” he spat in disgust.
But Glebelands is now fenced and both entrances have big green gates.
“I do not understand this fence,” said another resident, shaking his head, “this is such a waste of taxpayers money. We have so many serious problems here, but no one asked us what we needed. How will this help us? Our problems can’t be fenced like cattle in a kraal. We said we did not want this fence, but they ignored us. Again!”
At eThekwini Municipality EXCO meetings, glossy hostel renovation plans have dripped like honey from officials’ lips, lapped up by ingenuous opposition party representatives who pen glowing praise letters to the liars and the cheats, and state-media, eager for their requisite quota of ‘sunshine’ news, report enthusiastically on recent security improvements and ‘peace’ initiatives. More plasters for a community eviscerated by violent greed, where service delivery hasn’t stood still – it’s gone backwards.
Backslapping billboards line the freeway to Glebelands – 700 gazillion homes electrified screams one; another boasts about an unquantifiable number of houses built. It is difficult to discern which of these advertising extravaganzas are for the eThekwini Municipality and which belong to the ANC – all are a uniform yellow, green and black – but the line separating powers between party and state was rubbed out long ago and access to the public purse is now a free-for-all who have the biggest guns and most clout with the security cluster.
Meanwhile the sludge continues to bubble underfoot at Glebelands as people do their best to go about their daily grind – a parallel universe where the powerful pretend the lives of the poor really do mean more than a dead rat’s arse.
“Don’t call me ‘comrade’,” said a resident. “When I voted for change in 94 I didn’t realize I’d be voting for this,” as he gestured towards the nearest fetid flow of sewerage, “I’m no more their ‘comrade’.”
For now, politicians may have their shotgun ‘peace’ at Glebelands, but a septic tank of broken promises, rising inequality and hopelessness, augmented by a toxic combination of state repression and institutionalized gluttony, ferment below the surface. This cesspool must be drained so that clean governance and effective service delivery can become more than some post-94 pipe dream.