All the residents of Thembelihle want is a better life for the community.
Yet it seems, despite their best efforts to follow procedure, they are stymied at every turn. “We met with the Gauteng MEC of Human Settlements Jacob Mamabolo last year in November,” said Siphiwe Segodi, secretary of the Thembelihle Crisis Committee.
To reach his house, one has to travel on rough, lumpy dirt roads with no street lighting.
The tension in the township is obvious following a day of violent protests.
Children have been kept out of schools and at least one foreign national shopkeeper looted and chased from the area.
At 8pm last night, Segodi was waiting for word about a meeting to decide if the hostilities would continue through the night, or if there would be a cease-fire until 10am this morning, when Mamabolo would hopefully show up.
“He made commitments to us last year,” said Segodi.
“He agreed to a timeline to deal with our issues, he committed to providing us with an agreement in black and white. Since then there has been nothing. There has been no tangible progress, nothing has transpired.”
Sitting erect, proudly, in his chair, Segodi’s shoulders slumped a little when he said Mamabolo had made liars of the committee.
“We came back to the community, we praised him, we said to them, “Here is a man who listened to us”. He came across as honourable, but we have been very disappointed,” Segodi said.
Thembelihle is a common South African story. Tiny houses make do with communal taps, stolen electricity, tiny matchbox houses, and outside toilets.
Inside, Segodi’s house sparkles, his furniture has seen better days, but the aspiration for a better life shows in the satellite connection and flat screen television. Tuned into a news channel, he clicks his tongue appreciatively when Thembelihle is mentioned on the screen.
“When we had our meeting on Sunday, we said there must be no looting. How does one man affect the economy of the area? Our children missed school, we are not proud of that. But by ignoring us, the MEC is forcing us into this state.”
And it is a state. The embers of burnt tyres flicker in the darkness, the occasional flames lighting the devastation of concrete blocks, rocks, bricks, boulders and whatever else lay close to hand when protesters started blocking the roads.
“If we didn’t phone the MEC, he would never contact us. He said he would come back to us before his office closed last year. We are still waiting.”
Today, Segodi hopes the MEC will make finally make good on his word.
Residents march through the streets while some set up barricades, 23 February 2015, in Thembelihle near Lenasia, Johannesburg. Protesters took to the streets when Traditional Affairs and Human Settlement MEC Jacob Mamabolo failed to respond to a march the informal settlement hosted last year. Picture: Alaister Russell