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Young, unemployed and without proper shelter in Freedom Park

Freedom Park is one of the areas in the south of Johannesburg which have recently seen protests over land, housing and unemployment. Residents say they have been protesting for land and housing for over two decades, but the government has failed them. Young people have also been vocal about the lack of jobs and increasing crime in the area. Some, like Thobekani Mpungose (27), have had to deal with all these issues at the same time.

The structure Thobekani calls home is a small one-bedroom shack in the middle of a sea of newly-built RDP houses. The roof, a sheet of black plastic weighed down with stones and tyres, does not hold up well in wet weather. As it started to rain, Thobekani stood at his door, checking the plastic roof for potential leaks. Afterwards, he looked at the expanse of peach-coloured RDP houses. He told The Daily Vox how he came to Freedom Park and why he feels trapped there.

I am not originally from Freedom Park, I wasn’t born here. My father left us behind in the village and came to Jo’burg seeking employment back in the ’90s. When he moved to this area, he lived in a shack and had applied for a house from government. This was close to 20 years ago. Unfortunately he passed on in 2013 while waiting for his house and that is when I had to relocate to Freedom Park.

I had just failed my matric and I was planning on repeating it, but I couldn’t because there was no one to represent my father to claim his house. My mother couldn’t leave our home back in the village to come and stay here in Freedom Park. There was no one else who could come besides me. I was the eldest child at home.

When I moved here, there were no RDP houses on this land, it was just our shacks. But now, there are RDP houses that were built last year, and my father was not on the list of those who got the houses. In fact, we [those who still don’t have RDP houses] believe that there are some people here with houses that are not even from Freedom Park. I do not know or understand how my father’s house has not be granted to me. It pains me, living in a leaking shack, a cold shack that could collapse at any time, while there are RDP houses next to me. We have been trying to speak to our ward councillor to assist, but all he keeps on saying is “Ngizoni siza, ngizoni siza, ngizoni siza,” [“I will help you, I will help you, I will help you.”] but he never does. Look, it’s raining now and we are struggling.

Same with unemployment. I have been unemployed ever since I moved here four years ago. Yes, I have been getting piece jobs every now and then, but I have never received a stable job. You can’t get jobs here, and that’s an issue that affects us as young people of Freedom Park. Even government is not doing anything to help us. It’s tough, it’s really tough. We beg local government to help us with getting jobs but we never get responses. I feel like I have failed, it’s really painful.

For me, trying to get a job outside of this place is very challenging, especially if you do not have some sort of qualification, like matric or a degree. It’s challenging. It’s painful. It upsets me. I would like to continue with school but I can’t because I don’t have the resources and the help I need to continue with school. I could go back home and finish school, but who is going to wait here for the house if I leave? I’m scared that we will lose the house if no one is here to represent my father. We don’t even know when we are getting this house, so the best thing is to stay here and not move, and just keep our eyes and ears open. But at the same time, staying here and not being employed is tough, because what am I supposed to eat every day?

It’s very difficult choosing which is more important. I fear that by the time I get my father’s house, it will be too late for me to go back to school, finish my matric and get a decent job, and then what? Will this be my fault? We have been waiting and waiting. Our parents have even died waiting but no one helps us. My father wanted the best for us and I feel like we are being forced into poverty so we can suffer for the rest of our lives.

As told to Mihlali Ntsabo, edited for brevity and clarity. – The Daily Vox

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