Johannesburg – Two thousand people. Not one toilet. Only one tap. Dirty, stagnating, stinking water everywhere.
This is how a squatter community lives in the Joburg inner city, just behind the prestigious new Maboneng development where a small studio apartment can cost up to R650 000.
The Kwa Mai Mai squatter camp was started some 10 years ago in an old warehouse. Shacks were initially erected inside the building, but later spread to the outside.
The plumbing inside the warehouse is blocked and, over the years, water has slowly started filling up inside and outside the building, around the shacks. It is up to 2m deep in places.
Some shack owners live, eat and sleep with knee-high deep water inside their homes. They have placed plastic crates and other objects on the floors to raise their beds and other possessions above the water.
Others are constantly having to raise their shacks with bricks to keep the water out. Some have given up and now live with water creeping up their outside walls.
Crates, old corrugated iron sheets, bricks and rocks are visible everywhere. Shack dwellers use them as stepping stones to get over the smelly water to get into their shanty structures.
In one part of the warehouse, the water is so high that residents cannot get out of their front door. They have made a makeshift ladder at the back of the shacks to climb to higher ground so that they can get out of the building.
DA proportional representation councillor for Jeppestown, Bongani Nkwanyana, said he has been complaining to the City of Joburg for years about the plight of this community. “There are about 50 children living there. It is a miracle that not one has drowned in the water.
“In the summer, the place is infested with mosquitoes. In winter, it is freezing cold as these people are living surrounded by water.
“All I am asking is for the city to send someone to unblock the drains, to collect the refuse, to install temporary toilets and provide clean water – all basic necessities,” Nkwanyana said.
“The city is creating a health hazard, not only for the community but for the whole neighbourhood as well,” he pointed out.
Nkwanyana said the city’s municipal entities are using the excuse that they are not mandated to do jobs on private property.
It is ironic, he said, that the city recently invested R3.2 million to upgrade the Kwa Mai Mai market which is next door.
This is one of Joburg’s oldest traditional healers’ markets and is a tourist attraction. They could have rather spent that money providing services to this community,” he added.
Zama Magemula said life was very hard in the settlement. “I live off grant money.
“Without it, I would not be able to support my children. I’ve tried starting a little business, but every time I do, the metro police confiscate my things, so I have stopped trying.”
Thobigile Thoke described the conditions as “disgusting”.
“There is dirty water everywhere around us. We have received no help. We have children and it is unsafe for them here,” she said.
Nogipho Amphi, 8, said she wishes for a better life for herself and her sisters. “We live with dirty water all around us and it is unhealthy and unsafe,” she said.
The Johannesburg Property Company, which is responsible for the premises, said the land is owned by the city and has been designated as an informal trading area.
JPC executive manager of corporate services, Makhosi Tisani, said Joburg’s Housing Department was in the process of sourcing alternative, council-owned land to which the community can be relocated.
“The city’s housing department has undertaken to relocate the community to a piece of land with suitable ablution facilities and services,” Tisani explained.