I am from informal settlements hidden in some decent South African, Jo’burg (Eastrand specifically) town, everything is pretty standard and dignified in my district municipality, except for my slum. I am lost in these shameful self-made muddy roads I ride on daily, disgusting tap water, a poorly built shack I rest my head and my worst, the bucket system toilets that keep this dump of a place smelling a bit “funny”, all times of the day. The law says you get arrested for peeing publicly but these bucket toilets are so disgusting that we don’t mind risking it, and we only go in them when we absolutely have to, when we have to take a number two since that cannot be done in public. It is a dark city, where the sun doesn’t shine, no stars, no hope at all in all the lifeless folks who dwell in it, and it is a dark city because it has no electricity as well. The fabricated glimpse of light we see is power illegally connected from the neighboring municipal hostel and we are charged a monthly fee by its dwellers who also don’t pay for that electricity at municipal level, and these “DIY” electrical wires kill our babies every single day but we still continue connecting them, because apart from the fact that the izinyokanyoka electricity is cheaper than consuming paraffin daily is that paraffin also comes at another hefty price of burning many of our fellow friends inside their shacks. Trash is everywhere, the municipal solid waste department never bothers to come pick it up on their scheduled pick up days, so you find everything rolling around the muddy streets, from food packaging, empty bottles, to used condoms and even worse, used period pads.
I do live in that sham of a place that brings about shame to its dwellers every single day. I am surrounded by shattered dreams. I see people convinced that it is impossible to make it out of this dump; they believe it is impossible to make it in life. I smile at kids that call every man they see by their “Uncle”, one would wonder if it is a gesture of respect or is it because of many men that “visit” mama at home, and all of them are introduced as “Uncle” so-and-so that any male figure now automatically fits the description. I occasionally yell at kids as they make noise at the little green grass in front of my shack I would like to call a yard, I always feel guilty as I chase them away because I know that they have nowhere else to go, and that they are out here making this noise and disturbing my quite writing time simply because there is nothing else better to do. Every time after I chase them away, I see them wander around for a while, until they open the bucket toilet in front of our yard, play inside and stir sticks in the “poo-poo” and then come out laughing and chasing each other in a threat to wipe the sticks off one another. Their parents become so furious, and I just stand there with my helpless smile in in-depth understanding that these kids resort to such games for entertainment because there is just nothing else better to do. These games extend to being sexual, not an imitation bumping and grinding but the real thing, I recall one time seeing a young girl crawling to her home crying and bleeding from the vaginal area, after the sexual game had turned to what they might have saw mom and “uncle so-and-so” doing at home last night, my assumption really.
It is not a place of broken homes because there would need to be homes first for them to be broken, so I’m from a place of no homes at all. Usually it is just a woman with her kids “shacking up”. There are no husbands or fathers; I have no idea where they are as well, people usually come down there once defeated and when everything else has failed. You would see a broken woman that does her best to keep herself intact and care for her children, and you have never seen her with a man until she gets comfortable, then you would occasionally see a man from this neighboring hostel enter her room late at night, and if you wake up as early as I do you would see a lot of these men leave their respective shacks one by one in the early hours of the morning. It is always the very same story every evening, although it might be a different “uncle” from time to time. I usually go for a jog every morning, I usually pass by the clinic where most of the women from my slum are standing in a long cue to the clinic to collect their ARV’s, and everybody seem to know of these ladies’ HIV statuses, except for the men that walk out of their rooms with such pompous smiles every single morning.
Let’s talk about these men for a moment. They come from their respective homelands to work in the big city of gold, first it was mines, then it was industrial firms and now they work pretty much anywhere, even in the municipal offices that should be responsible for fixing up their own residential places. They leave their families behind fearing to expose them to these harsh living conditions in the big city, and they send them money every month until they start acquiring new titles that influence their priorities (such as being “uncles”), I have been to some of the humblest homeland villages where women and children would basically live off the garden spinach and milking cows whist their husbands had not sent nothing in six months, as you would watch kids walk many miles on bare feet to school you can’t help but wonder only if they knew what their “papas” had been up to in Jo’burg. The irony of partition of a family in order to protect it is; that very same family is often exposed to harm by its very protector. Apart from the poverty suffered in the last six months the husband returns home missing his wife, she missed him too and they just get steamily hot intimate within the first few minutes of laying eyes upon each other whilst for the past six months he has been doing the very same “did” with that lady I passed by the clinic this morning. I am not saying they don’t ‘condomize’, I’m just saying I once heard someone saying; “The way I hate this condom sticky bullsh*t thingie I don’t even know to wear it”. The roar I heard afterwards, it clearly showed that the other gentlemen felt the very same way. But of course there is always an exception, as I am filled with relief to see condoms with the trash thrown at the back of my house, it shows that some people still have the decency to use “this sticky bullsh*t thing” in these days and times especially.
Education is a key to success. The lesser educated people are, the more likely they are to do unjustifiable things. It is no one’s fault really, but it is the burden all of the affected. I have attended community meetings where we would plan how to go about protesting for better housing, clean water, electricity as well as sanitation. The meeting would often seem pointless simply because the community is led by people who have questionable knowledge about these sorts of things. And they are usually elected to power because they’ve attended every meeting, they have been around for too long or they always have a gun their waist, so they basically bully their way into leadership. The problem occurs when they have to communicate our demands (or needs most humbly), they are faced with a challenge as soon as they get to municipal offices because they now have to justify their case on reasonable grounds, and at that level your commitment to your community, your experience in resisting “poo” smell or the gun in your waist isn’t worth two cents because your ability to justify your case on reasonable grounds to politicians looking for the easiest excuse to dodge responsibility need to be on an intellectual basis, which is almost a luxury for most of our leaders.
I am not ashamed of myself, although I confess to being hurtfully judged more times than I can recall by people who have no idea of my circumstances. I am not a product of my environment, hence I have been accused by most of my fellow neighbors of thinking I am better than everyone else. I have dreams, they are big, and they are far bigger than me I admit. I am not ashamed of them; I have no reason to be. I wake up every single morning; look at everything and everyone around me. They remind me of who I am, they remind me of my story truly worth telling, they are my story in fact.
I have seen many young men and women around me that would glow with so much potential when going to school that you could tell that they are much better than this dump of a place and they know it too, they have dreams as I do, far bigger than this place, as I do too. I remember this one sister back in the days, we were once sitting in a shade under this tree and day dreaming about what we would like to be some day. She said that one day she would like to buy her mother a house, needless to say that it saddened me after she had her second baby her baby’s father would beat her right outside her mother’s door, a few weeks after the kid had been born, she would cry helplessly and her mother would lock herself inside the house fearing the fierce of this young gentleman as she had been an old lady of unsatisfactory physical health at that time and everyone around would just go about their everyday business as if nothing was happening. Her mama passed on a few weeks after that, an old broken woman who had worked her ass off her whole life trying to provide for her kids but failed, without family, without a home or money for the burial and without even receiving the house her daughter had once promised her.
Writing this piece literally brought me to tears. It was mixed emotions really, the pathetic helpless child that just wants everyone to feel sorry for him, the defeated young man that has seen so many painful things around him, the shameful grown man that had expected that by this time in his life he will have saved enough money to have left this place, and the most important one, the courageous adult who knows crystal clear that his faith will see him out someday but still is empathetic to everyone who won’t enjoy the same fate.
The most important lesson here is; “No matter where you are from or what you may be going through, never lose sight of your dreams, because they are the ones that will see you free. You are the God of your dreams, you are your dreams”.