'Life is good here' - Kagiso in black and white

Johanna Dorothea and her husband Christo Putter live in an RDP house in Kagiso. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Johanna Dorothea and her husband Christo Putter live in an RDP house in Kagiso. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

The Blue Bulls flag on the window stands out like a sore thumb in an area where football is nearly a religion. This is the home of white folk, Afrikaners. The area is a black township.

Susan Koen runs a crèche that has grown from five children to 14 since it opened its doors in August.
The most recent child was enrolled just last week. She giggles lightly at the way their names roll off her tongue: “It is still difficult to pronounce all the names but I'll get it right."

Among the names are Nceba, Tshegofatso, Odwa, Palesa, Anele.

Ouma's Day Care is located in what could otherwise have been used as the garage of Koen's RDP house in a newer residential development in Kagiso, west of Johannesburg.

The "classroom" is the space that's left after the family caravan was pushed further back into the garage. The walls are adorned with all sorts of teaching aids. An assortment of playthings are neatly packed away in marked plastic containers stacked against the walls.

The Koens are one of 10 families who took up residence in Chief Mogale when the state issued houses opened for occupation three years ago.

"It is safe and quiet," Koen says about the location, "we're all good neighbours, good friends."

She says she first toyed with the idea of a tuck shop "because I can't sit idle" but found that "it didn't work" in this part of town, which lies within easy walking distance of a mall with a Shoprite outlet.

Payment obligations
But another reality has just dawned: the parents cannot honour their payment obligations. "Many of them are struggling but I can't just turn the kids away.

On some weekends a child or two will stay over because the parents have to work, "so I take them to church with me". Church is in town, about eight kilometres away.

A mother of five grown-up children who have in turn given her seven grandchildren, Koen laughs and plays with her charges, and reads to them in English and Afrikaans. In their barely elementary English, they call her "teacher"; now and then, with a child's innocence, one stands up while the class is in session to go whisper something in her ear.

Anywhere else this would be the sort of care and attention that parents would break the bank to pay for – promptly.

But in lieu of payment, some mothers often volunteer to come spruce up the crèche and perform other chores.

"No money comes into my pockets because whatever I get goes right back to buy food and other essential needs," confesses Koen.

The two meals the children eat at the crèche could very well be their only food for the day, the child minder ventures.

A few houses away from the Koens is the home of Christo Putter (37) and his wife Johanna Dorothea, who puts her age at 60. Putter reminds her that she's actually a year older.

Like a house on fire
They get on like a house on fire.

Their house is neat. The couches in the lounge have seen better days, but they have found their match in Dorothea, who runs a tight ship.

Everything in the house is where it should be, and tastefully so. The trinkets in the display cabinet are the work of a décor fanatic. On the walls are pictures of Putter's late mother, Charlotte. There's another picture of Putter at seven, in the uniform of his primary school in Brits.

The coffee table is handmade, no doubt Putter's handwork. The snow-white fridge is in the lounge because after the sink and small grocery cupboard, there's no more space in the kitchen.

Even her husband's "money machine" – the electric lawnmower, – is neatly pushed against the wall, away from the foot traffic.

"Once we slept in a toilet in Randfontein," Putter says with eyes that fill up quickly with tears.

Randfontein is the next town west.

"I waited 18 years for a house," says Dorothea. "When it came we got married," her husband adds.

They live on Dorothea's R1 330 monthly pension grant. She "nursed", she says in Afrikaans, at Moreglans, an old-age home in town.

"We buy R200 electricity, water for another R200, groceries for R400 – and there's no meat there, then the money is klaar," Dorothea says, counting off the expenses on her one hand.

'Life is good here'
Putter says he's stopped mowing the lawn for his neighbours "because they don't pay".

He worked as a boilermaker in Upington before coming back to the province. His last job was as a security guard in town.

"Life is good here," says Dorothea, quick to add: "There's only one God for all of us."

The area has afforded her the one thing she's craved all her life: peace and tranquillity. She says that when they moved in, their new black neighbours offloaded their belongings and carried them into her new home. "I couldn't believe it!"

"We're one big happy family," says Putter, doing a little jitterbug, as if he is recalling the lyrics of a song.

His missus adds: "It doesn't help to bicker and fight. People must learn to live together."

The Putters share their home with Hennie Erasmus (70), who otherwise could have been homeless.

Erasmus is hard of hearing and says the old-age home he had been involved with wants him to pay a bribe before it will accommodate him. He's refused to pay.

Twenty-three-year-old Zingisile Mdumaza's family is neighbours with the Putters. The goodwill between the two families is palpable.

"They are a fun bunch of people," says Mdumaza. Milk, money for bread and other "asks" often change hands over the fence between the neighbours. "We help each other out."

Putter confirms as much. When his mother died, one of the black neighbours gave him R50 for the taxi fare. "He didn't want it back."

The entrance to the next house, Number 178, is past a street lamp pole, from which President Jacob Zuma smiles down with the ­postered assurance that "together we move South Africa forward".

The woman of the house is not home. Koekie Beukes is away at work, at a crèche owned by black residents of another part of the township.

Her son Constant (34) is busy applying a fresh coat of paint to their kitchen, with the help of his girlfriend Liezel Coetzee (16), who stays three houses away.

The house is like the rest: two bedrooms, a lounge and an open-plan kitchen. It is small.

Constant says his brother Chris, who has TB, is sleeping in the closed bedroom. They used to rent rooms before moving to Coronation, a public park in town, which has been turned into a squatter settlement by destitute white families.

The whites of Chief Mogale come from Coronation.

Constant says his family is acclimatising here but so far they have not had any reason to regret their move to the predominantly black location.

He says he went to school with black children at Riebeeckrand High in Randfontein, but only in the last four years of his schooling.

People still stare when he ­commutes in taxis but he thinks the novelty will wear off.

Moloke Masola, an Umkhonto we­Sizwe Military Veterans Association member, says he lives happily with his white neighbours. "The only thing I don't like is that some of them have sold their houses and moved back to the park. We haven't even received title deeds yet, but they pocketed the money and ran. This creates a burden on government resources."

Constant agrees that some white beneficiaries have since left the area as "they say they are not safe here".

Nkosana Zali, spokesperson for the local Mogale City municipality, says "in the spirit of co-operative governance, the provincial government and ourselves succeeded in advancing social cohesion though integrating South Africans regardless of race in the Chief Mogale Integrated Housing Development".

The living arrangements here "buries the apartheid bogey that our communities cannot live in harmony with each other", Zali says.

But the park to which some of those who sold their new houses decamped has been earmarked for redevelopment, so they will find themselves out in the cold yet again.

Meanwhile, those who stayed are muddling along just fine. Black and white together. And the sky has not fallen. – © makatilemedia

‘There's only one God for all of us'

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