Displacement (verb): to force (people or animals) to leave the area where they live – Merriam Webster Online Dictionary.
“The eviction came at the wrong time. Our children were traumatized because we were forced to sleep outside, in the cold. Our furniture and appliances were also destroyed. This eviction ruined everything,” says Mpho Vhumedzani. I’m at the industrial stand in 1st Avenue, Alexandra where Mpho recollects last week’s largely-ignored eviction. This is where 25 families had their sh*t thrown out and were forced to brave the wintry chill that came with last week’s cold front. With another eviction taking place almost simultaneously in Lwandle, Cape Town (and the ensuing blame game between the Democratic Alliance and Sanral); Alex’s eviction was, for the most part, buried under the headlines. That, however, didn’t make the impact anymore severe.
“They kicked us out into the streets and left us stranded with our kids. We organized accommodation for the women and children to sleep in the community hall but the rest of us slept out there,” Mpho says, pointing to the street behind him.
The story of Alex’s eviction has been one of continued humiliation for the residents. Besides the public degradation that comes with having all your belongings thrown out into the street, in full view of the public, there’s also the very real emotional trauma that comes with being forced out of the place you call home. Whether we call it an “industrial land” or an “abandoned factory”, these people had come to accept it as home. Which is sad; primarily because the government should have made sure they had a dignified place to live, but also because they were eventually thrown out in any case.
But this is nothing new. I mean, honestly, what’s there to say about Alexandra that hasn’t already been said? Walking through the township is an assault on the senses. The trash-strewn streets are wet with raw sewerage and the sound of blaring taxis fills the air. At any particular moment, the overcrowded streets seem ready to explode. The place is a mess. The greater housing crisis affecting South Africa is just another caustic element that adds to the indignity of living in Alexandra and is likely to perpetuate the occurrence of such evictions. People on government waiting-lists for RDP homes are often forced to erect shacks on private property because they have nowhere else to live, leaving them at the merciless discretion of private land owners who are (legally) within their rights to kick anyone off their property.
For now, the the victims of last week’s eviction are currently scattered over different parts of Alex, with a few moving back to the industrial stand. The women are being accommodated at Vezinyawo settlement in Marlboro and the men currently reside at the Marlboro Community Centre. The municipality has promised to provide temporary shelter for them (in the form of shacks, mind you) in the next three to four weeks. Until then, they will continue to live, away from the sight and attention of the media. They have been displaced from their homes and, as is usually the case with the poor, from the responsibility of the government. They are truly, a forgotten people.
Photography by: Rofhiwa Maneta
Follow me on Twitter: @RofhiwaManeta
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