Shack dwellers wait with bated breath

BARE CUPBOARDS: Mavis Qolohle is worried about how she will survive next month if her grant is not paid Picture: EUGENE COETZEE
BARE CUPBOARDS: Mavis Qolohle is worried about how she will survive next month if her grant is not paid

Payment matter of survival for residents of Silvertown

Their cupboards are empty and their zinc shacks full of holes – and like the rest of the country’s 17 million social grant recipients they desperately hope they will be paid next month.

They are the residents of Silvertown, an area of Kwazakhele, Port Elizabeth, which according to the last census, in 2011, was home to 1 775 people living in 508 informal dwellings in an area where unemployment was almost double that of the national average.

In Silvertown, residents still use paraffin as their main source of energy and the bucket system is prevalent.

For many of the metro’s poorest of the poor, news that social grants might not be paid had not filtered through earlier this week.

As the Department of Social Development remains embroiled in controversy, because of wrangling over the contract with the company that makes the payments, those who desperately need the little they get will wait with bated breath.

The department has admitted that it has no plan for making payments if the contractual impasse is not resolved.

Mavis Qolohle, 84, a grant beneficiary, this week found her cupboards bare.

When told about the Sassa debacle she reacted with disappointment and anger.

“This is like killing us with a slow poison as we can barely survive with what we already get.

“We were excited when we heard the minister of finance [Pravin Gordhan] would increase our grants but now it seems as if we will have to wait. With the R1 500 I get, I buy groceries, pay for my medication, buy clothes for everyone and, most importantly, 10 litres of paraffin.

 “By mid-month I am forced to go to the loan sharks, who charge 50% for every R100 borrowed, because the money is not enough.

“This means that if we don’t get the grant money next month I will be forced to go to the loan sharks for survival.”

Qolohle does not own much and she lives with her two unemployed grandchildren.

The family does not have electricity and uses a primus stove to cook.

When they run out of paraffin, Qolohle has no choice but to cook on a fire outside. For Silvertown residents, a soup kitchen, run every Thursday by a church in Swartkops, provides a little relief but the price of accessing the soup kitchen is a 5km walk.

Not far from Qolohle lives Boniswa Twani, 28.

A mother of three, an 11-year-old and three-year-old twins, Twani left school when she was in Grade 8.

“It is difficult to get work. I survive on the R950 government grant that I get for my kids. I spend R300 on groceries, another R300 for the twin’s pre-school, R120 for insurance and another R120 for my daughter’s transport.

“I can only buy clothes for my kids in December. It pains me that I can’t buy things like yoghurt or a packet of NikNaks for them.

“I don’t know what will happen to us next month if the money is not paid.

“At times I get piece jobs around Kwazakhele but they are also very scarce these days,” she said.

Kolisile Baba and his daughter Zoliswa Baba Picture: Eugene Coetzee
Kolisile Baba and his daughter Zoliswa Baba Picture: Eugene Coetzee

Kolisile Baba, 77, stays with his daughter, Zoliswa, 40, and three grandchildren between the ages of five and 19.

“People are going to die from starvation. With the R1 500 that I get I can only buy the basics.

“Having vegetables with our food is a luxury we get to enjoy once a month.

“From this R1 500 I have to buy clothes, groceries, pay for insurances and also the loan sharks.

“People here survive by borrowing money from the loan sharks and at times they [loan sharks] take the whole amount and we have to borrow money again to make it through the month.

“It would be lovely to have a soup kitchen in our area because it’s daunting to walk for 5km just for a bowl of soup,” Baba said.

Nancy Mashumi, 65, said the government was making their lives difficult.

“Is this their way of trying to kill?” she asked.

Nancy Mashumi Picture: Eugene Coetzee
Nancy Mashumi
Picture: Eugene Coetzee

One thought on “Shack dwellers wait with bated breath

  • March 8, 2017 at 8:39 am

    This article does not quite reflect the situation for all those that receive social grants. I stand in the queues at shopping malls and see people purchasing absolute luxuries with their grants.


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