THABAZIMBI – During the past 5 years squatter shacks next to Foodzone have been springing up like mushrooms, causing not only serious problems to neighbours, but also health hazards and aesthetically spoiling the entry to Thabazimbi.
According to Sally and Pottie (of POTTIESIGN) Potgieter when they started renting the property 5 years ago from Hema Trust, there were about 80 people living at the bottom of the squatter camp. Today there are an estimated 500 shacks, stretching deep into the bush.
Stories go around that some of the squatters have received RDP houses, but are renting it out to procure incomes. Many of the squatters work at the mine, since they traverse the Hema Trust property daily, presumably to the Kumba plant. This means that these squatters are not necessarily financially stretched, because of unemployment.
There are no fences currently around Hema Trust property and attempts to block the footpaths crossing it have been unsuccessful. According to one of the owners, Marié Sims, she tried, without success, to bring the matter before the responsible person at the Municipality. She is now considering putting up a fence around the property which will help protect it and the tenants.
An upset Sally recounts how, on the morning of her interview with Die Kwêvoël, a young bushbuck was found in a fence around the factory situated on Hema Trust property. It seems that squatter dogs went hunting in the morning, and chased the fawn into the fence, tearing off two of its legs. It was later on found and killed by factory workers to stop it from further suffering.
Numerous wire snares have been found on Hema Trust property, killing off the game, which occupants on neighbouring properties so enjoyed seeing around. The chopping down of trees is also a regular occurrence, including old knobthorns with long straight trunks, which are used for poles. Upon confronting the wood choppers, the Potgieters were told that the trees did not belong to the owner of the property, but were “God’s trees”, presumably meaning that it was there for anybody to take. They approached Green Peace in this regard, but were referred to the police.
Pottie recounts the story of how he repeatedly laid electrical cables, at a huge expense, just in order for it to be stolen. They have come to the point, he says, that they do not feel safe there any longer. He does not even like leaving Sally alone at home if he goes to the shops for more than half an hour.
On a tour around the property piles of rubbish on Hema Trust property, including babies’ nappies, human faeces and isolation tubes stripped off electrical cable, were found lying around. Several footpaths cross the property from the squatter camp in a westerly direction.
According to the local office of the Department of Environmental Affairs, the situation will definitely have to be investigated, since the absence of sanitation for such a big group of people have definite implications for the environment. Not only is contamination of ground water a possibility, but surface run-off can also kill off wild life. The hazard caused to environmental health is also a matter the Department of Health must investigate.
The indiscriminate denuding of property by chopping down trees cannot be permitted and will have to be controlled. The same goes for the killing of game in snares. An undertaking was given that the matter will receive attention and will be taken up with the Municipality.
However, it seems that the matter was altogether left unattended for too long. And now, taking control proves to be a monumental task, far more work than if it was taken care of during the initial stages of the development of the squatter camp.
The person responsible for managing the situation is the Social Services Manager at the Municipality, a post that has been vacant for over a year. Currently the head of Protection Services, Johnny Motaung, is also responsible for Social Services. Motaung has already succeeded in successfully resettling some and reorganising existing squatter homes in Extension 3 in Regorogile in the early stages of 2009.
Over a time of approximately 3 months the squatters homes of Extension 3 were organised in neat groups, with streets in between and centralized ablution facilities were created. A soccer field is also in the process of being cleared.
He hopes to resolve the problem of the Foodzone squatters in a similar fashion, says Motaung.
One of the big problems is finding the owner of the property of the squatter camp. The Municipality cannot take charge of the situation, before the matter of ownership is settled, says Motaung. Motaung plans, however, to start tending to the squatter problem soon by doing a survey of the number of people and shacks on the property.
But unfortunately, until either alternative arrangements have been made, or the squatter camp is restructured according to health standards, the situation will continue to deteriorate.