Down a grass covered track on Jindon Farm, less than a kilometre from the Umshwathi Municipality offices, a painfully thin Gogo (granny) sits dejected on the damp floor of a mud house. Sixty-eight year old Dumazile Magwaza stares at the wood smoke curling up through the many holes in the roof, her stained, ragged clothing barely hiding her skeletal legs, one of which is so damaged that she can hardly move.
On the 12th December last year, Dumazile, her 23 year old daughter and four year old grandchild, experienced a powerful hail storm which almost whipped off their roof. High winds and hail caused a neighbouring mud house to collapse, burying everything underneath. Most of the homes of the 21 farm dwellers were also damaged – six out of nine in total – the driving rain soaking and spoiling the furniture, clothing and food within. Now the broken roofs let in rain, repeatedly destroying belongings and creating unhealthy living conditions.
“They – the Municipality – promised to help us after the storm but nothing happened. So what can I do?” she whispers. “My leg doesn’t work and we have nothing….I cannot pay for repairs and my disability allowance must pay to put food on the table.”
With the aid of a stick she is able to get up – but with difficulty. She only does so when nature calls – and then she must slowly find her way outside into the bushes. There is no furniture, no electricity and no running water in the three roomed hut; just two old single beds with broken mattresses, two small cupboards, and a couple of pots for cooking on the fire.
“We were promised tents and food parcels, and help to fix our houses,” said one of Dumazile’s neighbours.
“A man from the Municipality even came to visit us and promised to give the couple in the collapsed house somewhere to live. Nothing happened. Now we put tree logs on the roofs of our houses to stop them blowing off, and the couple live in a small shack. What we need most is urgent help to repair our houses.”
Broken promises – these are the experiences of countless marginalised farm dwellers across South Africa who face poor living conditions, insecure tenure, illegal evictions and the lack of a basic human right to dignity.
“The situation at Jindon Farm is actually one of the more straight forward cases we are involved in,” said Siya Sithole, Land Rights Advocate at AFRA in Pietermaritzburg.
“The Municipality has an emergency fund for natural disasters such as these so it should be relatively easy for them to assist. In this case, a home has been rendered uninhabitable and six others damaged; these are very vulnerable people including the elderly and children so the need is obvious.”
AFRA role is to engage all the stakeholders – the farm owner, the municipality and the farm dwellers themselves – to establish what action has and hasn’t been taken, and why. AFRA then checks which laws are relevant to the individual aspects of the case to ensure there are no rights violations. The NGO continues to monitor the situation after the initial intervention to ensure the rights of the farm dwellers are taken care of.
“We want to make sure that people like Dumazile receive the recourse that is due to them,” said Siya. “The Municipality has a disaster management unit and it is very disturbing that despite their close proximity, they failed to supply even just basic relief such as food and blankets.
”The Ward councillor- Mr Philip Dladla – visited the families soon after and should have sent a team to assess the damage – they still need to do this. We will be visiting the Municipality ourselves to ask some pertinent questions.
As for the dwellings where individuals work on Jindon Farm, they are still waiting for their employer – the landowner – to formally assess the damage and assist with repairing those dwellings.”
The couple from the collapsed house has now grown crops in front of their makeshift shack- a sign that hope in the Municipality has faded. But a glimmer of hope is still visible in the Dumazile’s jaded eyes.
“Please help us!”Dumazile pleaded, “I was born on this farm and I buried my parents here – in the graves over there,” she said pointing towards the open door. “This is why we stay – to tend the graves – how can I go anywhere else? If we go, the farmer will plant over the graves and they will be lost forever and dishonoured. I promised my parents I would stay – but we need help to fix our houses.”
Dumazile’s neighbour said quietly, “We have spoken amongst ourselves and discussed not voting in the coming elections. It’s sad but they only visit us when they want our votes.”