Siyahlala residents plead for help

Residents living along the railways line in Langa are concerned about their lives and the health of their children.

Residents of Siyahlala informal settlement in Langa have become accustomed to battling illness and flooding in the rainy season, particularly those who live along the railway line.

Residents of the informal settlement along the railway line in Langa drink unclean water because there is no other option and steal electricity from the nearby electric poles. They say life has been a struggle since they moved onto the land owned by the

Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) and they fear the cold, storms and flooding which characterise the Cape winter.

Concerned residents have appealed to the City of Cape Town to look for a place they can be relocated to.

Noloyiso Chitha said during winter, they have sleepless nights. “This winter promises to be a rough one with severe downpours, rains and storms forecast.

“When it rains here, life becomes tough. Our shacks (sink) because the land is soft. It is bad here such that it is difficult to manoeuvre around. We want a better place when we can put our shacks,” she said.

Asked where all the residents come from, she said they had been squatting in the hostels of Esikwatini for years. With families growing, she said, they decided to occupy the land.

“We are different families who have been renting somewhere and some were backyarders. But as the years went by, families do grow so we had to come up with something. We have been engaging the municipality for land, but that came to nothing.

“This area was the only option we had,” she told Vukani.

When Vukani visited the area last Thursday, it was still flooded from previous rains. Children had no place to play but at the railway lines. Another resident, Nomzamo Gule, said the struggle for relocation would continue until they found – or were given – a better place to stay.

“We are forced to stay here because we have families. We cannot rent and be backyarders for the rest of our lives. But living here has its disadvantages too. There are people shooting at night because they are stripping the railway lines. There are days when the electricity that we are stealing just goes off for days.

“If coronavirus has to kill many people it could be here because people here are poor. We hear of masks and sanitisers but we do not have that. There are days when the two taps do not have water,” she said.

Mayco member for Human Settlements Malusi Booi said becauase the settlement was situated on privately-owned land, the City may not install services without the owner’s permission.

He said the City had offered to assist Prasa to protect the land so that people did not settle where services could not be provided and to avoid the suspension of rail services to Langa station.

He said people had also occupied land along the Philippi railway line, which had led to the suspension of the rail service and posed a safety hazard for those living there.

“The City has to act in fairness and to recognise all of the other communities who have been waiting patiently for the delivery of services,” said Mr Booi.

“This is especially important in light of the enormous increase in land invasions across the metro over the past months. Numerous newly established communities are demanding services but currently the City is unable to cater for these unplanned settlements as existing recognised informal settlements are prioritised on the basis of available resources, which are not limitless.”

Prasa spokesperson Riana Scott said they understood that informal dwellings were erected out of despair and desperation. However, she said, living close to railway tracks posed a danger to the residents and to rail operations as it led to further degradation of rail infrastructure and assets.

“These informal settlements are without amenities and services, leading to illegal electrical connections, disposal of sewerage onto rail reserves and impedes rail modernisation.

“For this reason there is a multifaceted and integrated project in progress under the auspices of the responsible Prasa division Corporate Real Estate Solutions (CRES) in conjunction with national, provincial and local housing and other authorities to relocate the affected communities to suitable alternative sites in a legal and dignified manner,” she said.