This blog, from the SDI South African Alliance, contributes to a series called Community Voices — a blog space that shares the words of community members themselves. These stories— diverse yet unified – highlight aspects of the history, challenges and daily experiences associated with life in informal settlements.
This post draws its content from a storytelling workshop in GxaGxa informal settlement in Cape Town. In the post are the voices of: Nobuwe Biyane, Elizabeth Merane, Thembisa Magqaza, Nokwandisa Mhlandi, Peter Somina, Tlotliso Moses, Siphamandla Ntusi, Somila Shumi and Witness Qoqela
Community members were first addressed by Akhona Malangeni, an engaging and passionate leader of the Informal Settlement Network (ISN), who explained to them the importance of storytelling in gaining a community-based account of life in GxaGxa.
The first part of the dialogue focused on settlement history:
“The name GxaGxa stems from the birth name of the first man who settled there. As a lone settler, GxaGxa lived in this area for a few years until circumstance caused him to move back to the Eastern Cape”.
Community members seem to speak fondly of the late GxaGxa, who in 1987 was replaced by Mama Thembisa. Pictured below, Mama Thembisa now serves as a clear leader in the GxaGxa community.After a large group discussion, community members organised in smaller groups. In one conversation circle people were asked: What is the best part about living in GxaGxa?
“The best part of being in GxaGxa is that we are a family. A lot of young people [that] live in this place do things in unity. Everyone knows each other—if you arrive here, people know you before they see you. We live in spirit. Young people respect old people. Old people respect young people. People are also not worried about crime”.
The emphasis on community was echoed in many of the accounts coming out of GxaGxa. Correspondingly, people were asked: What is the difficult about living in GxaGxa?
“The rain is serious. When it gets colder the children—everyone—get sick. The water comes into the houses. Dirty water causes rashes that later become sores. There is no electricity. Those who are unemployed are especially vulnerable during this time because they cannot afford heat”. –Siphamandla Ntusi
The conversation about life in GxaGxa continued, including stories about the more trying aspects of daily life such as challenges in access to adequate services, the lack of employment opportunities and the relationship with the municipality.
Some of these challenges regarding services are found below:
The section comes from: Peter Somina, Tlotliso Moses, Siphamandla Ntusi, Somila Shumi and Witness Qoqela
Toilets –“Services [in GxaGxa] are poor and we are struggling because it is hard to get into toilets here. Many people who have their own toilets lock them. It is common for people to have to ask others for the key to the toilet”.
Tap- “Sometimes the water is completely dry in the tap and there is no water all day. These days we don’t eat. So we have to travel very far for water. This can happen 2-4 times a month. It depends. It just happens”.
Electricity- “We don’t have electricity. People share electricity. It becomes a problem when people don’t have money for paraffin. The streetlights are also off, which means it’s completely dark”.
Management- “If it’s hot the sewage smells. There is also a pond in the middle of the settlement [behind Mama Thembisa’s house] that floods and brings in a lot of mosquitos. Drains are also blocked”.
Indeed, references surrounding the danger of the pond were a common theme in settlement accounts.Above is a photo of the pond in the middle of GxaGxa. Showing the proximity of the pond to her room, Nosipho Magqaza says, “It’s not healthy to live here”.
After sharing about their daily experiences, GxaGxa community members shared what they would like to see happen in their settlement. Community leader Nobuwe Biyane shared her wishes for GxaGxa.
“I have two children ages 15 and 16. There is a lot of suffering in GxaGxa. There is no work. There is too little taps and they must fill the pond because mosquitoes bite our children. [We] want a house with electricity”. –Nobuwe Biyane
Another opinion came from Peter Somina, who shared his wishes for the community.
“In my mind we must organise something that must be big… we must organise a big something for people to get jobs…maybe we open big things like construction that open doors for opportunity”. – Peter Somina.
Author information: By GxaGxa Community Members. Compiled by Shelby Lyons (on behalf of CORC).
Main photo: In GxaGxa children play on the street.
(All photos originally posted with SDI South African Alliance article).
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