OPINION: No hope or streets of gold in Egoli

Phiri Cawe

I remember being a young boy growing up in the rural Ciskei. Among my dreams was to be a good man who would work for his family.

I saw myself working in Cape Town or Johannesburg, having a big house and living a good life. I dreamt so big as a youngster. I still have those dreams even though I am held hostage by those who have the means to make my dream come true.

On Saturday April 27- a day many call Freedom Day – I went to a squatter camp called Egoli in Philippi. I was shocked to see men still battling to feed their families – this was two weeks before South Africans went to the polls to vote for the country’s sixth democratically elected government. On Freedom Day people were still in bondages of unemployment, poverty and hunger while politicians were still promising things that I find hard to believe will materialise.

I am sure many in Philippi have never heard of this place called Egoli. When I first saw the email about this area, I mistook it for Joburg, which is also in Philippi. I thought the City of Cape Town decided to rename Joburg to Egoli for it is one thing.

When Google maps took me to an area behind Samora Machel I was shocked – not by the distance but by a lot of things I saw in the area: poor conditions, no infrastructure, poverty that is caused by a high unemployment rate. I always thought I was poor until I saw Egoli. I always thought that people in some informal settlements of the Cape are poor until I visited Egoli.

As we were standing waiting for the City officials to begin with the programme of the day, I had an opportunity to watch boys playing on a dusty, dirty field. They looked very happy and not perturbed by the blaring sound from the big speakers played by officials. They didn’t pay attention to the strangers wearing green work suits. That made me wonder why such young boys were not curious. As young poor kids we used to be very curious when we saw good-looking people or flashy cars in our hood. It was rare to see a man wearing a suit (no wonder I hate suits). Anyway, it came to me that they have probably seen clean, filthy rich people in their area with boxes of promises – promises that were never fulfilled.

Young as they are, they have heard too many lies and promises. Or perhaps somebody once told them not to come too close to strangers, or advised them that sport can change their lives and fortunes around. What I saw took me back to my youth when I had all these dreams and at the same time it killed my Freedom Day spirit.

It pained me to see men, who probably like me had these big dreams, with nothing. Torn trousers, sole-less shoes and some queueing in a little shack to get something to eat from a good Samaritan.

It was not nice to see men walking down the dusty street, eating dry rice. In this area people’s dignity, of men in particular, has been eroded, taken away and down in the drain. I speak about men because growing up I was taught that a man should take responsibility to feed his family. As young boys we were always encouraged to fight for and protect our families but more, to love them. If a man is stripped of such important values by the system, how then do you have that boldness to call yourself a man?

Mothers wearing torn gowns for the better part of the day is evidence that men were dead while alive. And not because they like it. I am sure to many women, those gowns are clothes. It came to me that we are still denied power, growth and freedom by our own.

After 25 years of freedom we are still in bondage. We should take a trip and visit our regular visitors before every election. Let’s go see where these strangers stay. They seem to
be amazed that we are living in squalor. We also have to see how they live with their families. Let’s go open their fridges and clean their pota-potas.

But the truth is, we should not have Egolis. People’s lives should
be improved – there should be jobs and security for all. Egoli has stripped me naked inside and filled me with hate.