New Internationalist

All mixed up

Issue 87

Photojournalist Joe Sekola reports on Johannesburg neighbourhoods where the races are mixed and the problems are shared

APARTHEID is designed to control access to land, employment, and consequently wealth, solely according to a person’s colour. But the system is not, perfect. Some blacks get rich and some whites become poor. This confusion between race and class is at its strongest in the once affluent suburbs of old Johannesburg. Places like Troyeville and Doomfontein have become multi-racial slums. Here government neglect has meant poor white families now live side by side with African and coloured ‘squatters’. As the city grows the government reclassifies twilight areas like this, making families of one race or another illegal residents. Many people, including whites, are evicted. And the homeland policy makes all Africans without employment ‘vagrants’ who can be picked up and deported to remote, infertile areas. For the time being the urban blight areas provide shelter for the poor and unemployed of all races. But predictably enough they have also become havens for prostitution, illegal bars and petty crime.

Photo by Joe Sekola
Photo by Joe Sekola

No-one wants to employ me now’ complains Victor Mpela, a ,squatter’ living on the outskirts of Doornfontein. ‘I lost my job in Jo’burg because I got TB and had to go to the hospital. I was earning thirteen Rand as a dustman for the council, but they don’t want me now. So I’ve got nothing - they didn’t give me any compensation.

I had to move to Doornfontein to live with my sister. I’m not supposed to stay here if I’m not working, but I don’t want them to send me back to KwaZulu. They say that’s my home, where I belong. But it’s even harder to find a job there. At least here my sister can help me. She works as a maid for a white madam in town. But I’m worried if they catch me in case I get her into trouble.’

Photo by Joe Sekola
Photo by Joe Sekola

Dianne is a shebeen queen - she makes an illegal and precarious living from brewing and selling beer. It is just enough to keep and educate her children.

The family lives in Kliptown, near Soweto. It is one of the few multiracial areas in the country, and has become a refuge for coloureds avoiding resettlement.

This is no place to bring up kids,’ she sighs, ‘but I can’t afford to move. 1 only pay eight Rand (about $10) here. In the coloured housing area it’s at least twenty five. But this shack is terrible. I try to make it nice. I made a table out of paraffin tins, put some pictures up and built a bit on the back. You never get used to being poor though - it’s miserable. Especially when the rain comes in through the roof. Then you really know about the damp - we’ve all got coughs from it. God never helped anyone, you know. You’ve got to help yourself.’

Mrs. Hayter and her family are due to be evicted from their house in Troyeville. It has been their home for thirty-five years, ever since a drought in 1945 drove them off their land in the Orange Free State and forced them to look for work in Johannesburg.

The family has struggled to make ends meet ever since.

Photo by Joe Sekola
Photo by Joe Sekola

Mrs. Hayter, her three children, her sister, brother and old mother are all squashed together in their tiny house. But in spite of being so overcrowded the Hayters don’t want to leave. Troyeville has become a real community. No-one earns a decent wage, and this means that many of the barriers between racial groups have broken down.

We’ve never had any problems here. We sleep with the doors and windows wide open in the summer.

And on Christmas day we put the radio on the front step for everyone to hear. Then everybody in the street dances together. Yes, we’ve been happy here - no arguments or fights. And now they want to move us all out and pull our houses down to build factories.’

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