Siezed explosives are seen on the floor. The police conducted a multi-stakeholder operation in Matholesville, near Roodepoort. File picture: ALON SKUY/THE TIMES
Siezed explosives are seen on the floor. The police conducted a multi-stakeholder operation in Matholesville, near Roodepoort. File picture: ALON SKUY/THE TIMES

Nthabiseng Mgiqwa’s shack is right opposite an old gold mine shaft‚ which is filled with plastics‚ used nappies‚ rotting vegetables and dirty water.

She says that life in Matholesville informal settlement in Roodeport‚ Johannesburg‚ is hell and doesn’t believe it will ever change.

It’s Friday and the South African Human Rights Commission (HRC) has just carried out a follow-up inspection to get a firsthand account from the residents regarding conditions in the settlement.

The HRC first inspected Matholesville on September 17 2014 and found that there were insufficient communal water taps and toilets‚ poor sanitation‚ a lack of health services and electricity and high levels of crime. It held discussions with the City of Johannesburg‚ the provincial Department of Housing and the South African Police Services‚ but a re-inspection on July 21 this year revealed that nothing had changed since 2014.

Mgiqwa‚ a mother of three who moved to Matholesville in 1998 when her partner found a job in Roodepoort‚ says: "No one cares about us‚ officials always come to see how we live and go back to their lives‚ and nothing changes. I doubt it ever will. We have no water‚ no electricity and we have no sewage system.

The Roodepoort area is notorious for illegal mining activities‚ which also contributes to the depletion of water supply through illegal connections.

"We have to wake up at 4am to fetch water by the tap as there is always a long queue‚ the whole community use one tap. The mining activities resulted in some tap being closed as they waste water‚ they use too much‚" said Mgiqwa.

"In winter the hole used to release some gaseous steam … it was unbearable. It happened every winter until we started throwing things inside to block it."

Nosipho Gqibiso‚ who has two children and has lived in Matholesville for 19 years‚ said she almost gave away her last born because of her poor living conditions.

"Things are bad at here. On a regular basis you will hear gunshots and I can’t recall how many times I saw dead bodies and worried for my kids.

Gqibiso says her mother died in 2015. She had cared for Gqibiso’s first child.

"When my second child was born I wanted to give them away‚ because I had nothing to give [them]. But I had to be strong‚ though I don’t like living here; I have no choice but to.

Gqibiso said that her mental health and the environment affected the kind of a parent she is to her children.

"I take medication for a mental sickness; sometimes I forget things or hear people speak in my head‚ so it’s hard being a parent. It’s hard raising two kids so I had to take the elder one to go stay in Burgersdorp in the Eastern Cape with my grandmother.

She said her mother had applied for a RDP house and was approved‚ but nothing has happened since and "I am still here".

Vangani Makatu is another person taken from pillar to post about her promised and approved subsidised housing.

"In 1997 I applied for a house when the government wanted to move us to Fleurhof‚ which is a better area with services. They promised that we will have housing and a better life but nothing has happened. I will age here as it appears."

Bongani Majola‚ chairperson of the HRC‚ describes conditions in Matholesville as intolerable. "They amount to a denial of the right to access of water‚ housing and an environment that is not harmful. There is a big complaint here about safety."

Majola says the commission will report its observations to the City of Johannesburg and relevant departments. She hopes they will take these seriously‚ "they are obliged under the Constitution to do something".

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