“Alexandra is quickly deteriorating every minute, soon the entire township will be a slum.”
These were the words of community leader Sandile Mavundla, who took officials from the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and members of the Office of the Public Protector on an inspection of the area, as their probe into the Alexandra Renewal Project (ARP) kicked off on Friday morning.
The project was meant to address urbanisation and housing challenges in South Africa.
The SAHRC is conducting an inspection to probe possible violations of basic human rights and allegations of maladministration and improper conduct concerning the project.
The visit is part of an ongoing SAHRC hearing into the crisis in the township and the recent shutdown, in which residents protested.
President Cyril Ramaphosa set up an inter-governmental forum to deal with the grievances residents raised.
Interested parties have been invited to make written submissions to the SAHRC.
The tour on Friday began at the three-year-old Silvertown squatter camp, nestled between the Jukskei River and the old Alexandra Cemetery, under the guard of police and Johannesburg Metro Police Department officers.
The population at the squatter camp is increasing at a rapid pace, according to Mavundla. The visibly unhygienic conditions have led to the spread of diseases such as tuberculosis and asthma.
Almost every shack is illegally connected to electricity and some cables run above the river to their neighbours in another informal settlement.
Doors of communal toilets remain locked to prevent access for those who don’t clean them.
However, it means that some people have no other option but to relieve themselves on the edges of the river, under the pedestrian bridge and anywhere they find a “suitable” place.
Residents claim armed and brazen criminals rob people of their belongings day and night.
“This area is quickly being occupied by people who are not from here. They are living right on the edges of the Jukskei River without fear. They are even piling the river with rubbish and other objects to create stable ground to erect their makeshift shacks.
“Look now, the river is becoming narrower because of their activities. Everyone who comes to Alexandra is jostling for space and they squat everywhere, anywhere without fear. They are not only taking over Alexandra but are also destroying the environment,” said Mavundla.
Opposite the river, people dump rubbish into the river without hesitating. Others have toilets inside their shacks, and have connected the pipes so that human waste flows into the river.
“This is a daily, if not hourly activity. They don’t care. Jukskei is their dumping ground. They don’t care about the fish living in the river and i don’t think there is a single fish that remains in the river. We only see fish when it is flooded. No fish will survive here when people even throw dead animals in the river.
“Which normal person dumps anything into the river? The wold is facing a challenge of global warming and this behaviour is also contributing. Today, whenever it rains somewhere, the river is full to the extent that water floods their shacks.
“Those who build shacks on the edges of the river are often swept away by the river. We are tired of this behaviour, whenever, it rains in Gauteng. Journalists rush here to write stories about fatalities caused by the flooded river. We are turned into the laughing stock of the nation,” he said.
Margaret Dladla, 75, was among the first people who settled in the area in 2006 after government officials took them there to make way for the local Pan Africa Mall as part of the Alexandra Renewal Project.
She said they were temporarily relocated to Silvertown until the government found a piece of land where their RDP houses would be built. They were expected to be in the area for three months to a year.
“We are going to die here. I don’t see us being moved into those promised houses. It remained a dream and it will be. I was young and energetic when we arrived here. Today, I am suffering from tuberculosis, asthma, arthritis and bronchitis. This place has made me sick. It was quiet and peaceful until our neighbours near the river arrived.
“This place has become more unhygienic and unsafe. Gunshots are a day and night thing. We always lock our doors, not only for big rats that share our shacks with us but fearing for criminals who rob people here. I am telling you, if you didn’t have police escort, they were going to rob you of your belongings,” she said.
Mnikelo Ntombela, who arrived in the area four months ago, erected a shack below a pedestrian bridge.
“I have no place to stay and I found this one and built my home. We are not safe here. We share toilets without privacy. Imagine if someone can push down the toilet when you are inside? We have connected electricity from our neighbours,” he said.
His neighbour France Mbalate complained about the heavy stench in the area.
The tour headed to the cemetery which attracted criminals, they were told.
Mavundla said people steal palisade fencing made of cement, which was meant to cover the cemetery.
“The dead are no more in peace since we have squatters here. People here steal everything and some people have no dignity. They dump rubbish and relieve themselves here. We are being forced to come and clean this graveyard. This is a grave site which is meant to be peaceful. However, we have people who were buried many, many years ago,” Mavundla said.
Both reports from the SAHRC and the Office of the public Protector will be used at the hearing.