The Department of Home Affairs has still not helped most of those who lost their identity documents in a flood that hit Mamelodi, Tshwane, in December.
Located along the Moretele River, a tributary of the Crocodile River, the Seven Seven shack settlement is still muddy two months after floods washed away several homes and displaced up to 700 people. Residents worried about the heavy rain that fell this weekend – parts of Johannesburg flooded on Saturday – moved to the relief centres, but most homes were unaffected.
On 6 February 2020, the Department of Human Settlements claimed to be consistently monitoring the situation, adding that a series of meetings would be held once all issues had been resolved within the various spheres of government. The department confirmed that the capital’s current mayor, Stevens Mokgalapa, would expedite the issue so that affected families could be relocated.
Home affairs officials helped shortly after the devastation in December, but then a national network problem meant systems went offline. According to residents, they managed to serve only 25 people. Two months later, officials apparently have not returned.
“It makes no difference that I was helped,” says a resident. “You get a message saying you must pay R140 for the identity book. Where will you find that if all of your money is gone?”
Ofentse Matibela, 45, says those technologically savvy enough to apply online for places at their children’s schools are now concerned because they have no documents to submit. An application for a birth certificate costs R70.
Departmental spokesperson Siya Qoza says there is a grace period for outstanding documents at schools, adding that the amount due for the replacement of the documents will be waived.
“We are empowered by the law … to reissue documents to people who are distressed free of charge, so we are not going to charge people for having been exposed to a natural disaster because it was not their choice. … For you to [receive the] waiver … you need to write the exact number of people [who were displaced],” he says.
Qoza says its unlikely the department helped only 25 people as is claimed by the residents.
“There is a discrepancy in the numbers, and this often happens when there is a disaster. The city coordinates all the information and a councillor will give them the figures of those affected by the disaster in the area, which we must verify,” he says.
Once the department has verified those who need assistance, it would need to enter into talks with the city to transport residents to its offices for assistance. The financial implications of transporting citizens to home affairs and then waiving the document issue fee means the department must ascertain which people were affected and then confirm they were residents of the shack settlement at the time of the flood.
Qoza says officials were doing this work on Monday, 3 February 2020. But residents say there were no officials at the settlement then. Qoza has since not responded to New Frame’s calls for an update.
In August 2015, a group of youths from Mamelodi moved to the vacant land after finding out a farmer had sold it to the municipality. Matibela was one of them.
When they first occupied the area, the settlement was just a patch of land with three rows of settlements, whose inhabitants were routinely attacked by police. Now over 700 people live there.
Upstream, floodgates are opened after heavy rains, and residents are warned ahead of time.
Unsubstantiated rumours are now going around that in December the floodgates were intentionally opened for longer than usual and without warning to get the residents to move.
There is widespread fear that it will flood again.
“People start panicking when they see clouds … The rain didn’t affect us last week, but when you are suffering from post-traumatic stress, you panic,” says Matibela.
Some residents have taken shelter at a local church and community halls, while others who were able to salvage parts of their homes returned to the settlement.
Glenda Mashoeshoe, 29, moved to Seven Seven in 2015 with her fiance and child. She was trapped in her shack in chest-high water for five hours before she and her eight-year-old daughter were rescued.
She has been trying to start again.
“I need so many things, but it is not you alone. You have a child you must also think about, all of her Christmas clothes were washed away. It was a sad festive season,” she says.
Her dog, Danger, disappeared before the flood and returned afterwards. She watched her car and her neighbour’s shack float past her window. She managed to save her wedding rings and important documents, but forgot her fiance’s passport and wedding savings. She thought she would be back for the rest of her items, but there was nothing left.
“It was just a disaster. All the groceries were gone down the drain. The only thing that was left was the oil. I was laughing, but it was so sad,” she says.
A colleague of her fiance bought her daughter a uniform, which she now washes daily.
“No jersey, no tie, no blazer … I am worried when the weather is a bit cloudy, but as long as she can go to school, she will be fine,” she says, adding that her daughter now walks to school to save on transport costs.
Mashoeshoe, who is still training at a burger chain and was supposed to get married in March, is concerned about the coming months.
“You can imagine how difficult it is, come end of February, even if you get paid, you need to patch up so many things,” she says.
She feels they’ve overstayed their welcome at the church, despite appreciating the space.
In 2017, she was able to save her valuables because she was warned the floodgates would be opened. She can’t understand what happened this time round.
Traumatised and destitute
Veronica Marota, 39, moved from Stofberg, Limpopo, to her sister’s place at Seven Seven in August 2018, after enduring years of abuse at the hands of her ex-husband.
She arrived with three children whom she supports by selling loose cigarettes and sweets. During the floods, Marota was trapped against a barbed wire fence after trying to flee to safety. She was pinned there for seven hours before residents freed her and took her to hospital.
“Sometimes I feel like my legs are going to give me a problem,” Marota says. She is still traumatised and her children can pick up on this. She can’t go anywhere without telling people what happened to her. Thankfully, while recounting her distressing ordeal at a shop, a man overheard her.
“People are so good out there. He bought uniforms for my children. I don’t even mind that they are the wrong uniforms, as long as they have something to wear at school,” she says.
Marota, who lost her children’s immunisation cards, decries the lack of communication. “We haven’t been told anything … We don’t know what will happen.”
Head of the Gauteng Provincial Disaster Management Centre, Elias Sithole, says it is difficult to find vacant land in Mamelodi but that they want to relocate people to a site they are still preparing with minimum basic services. He could not confirm when the relocation would take place and would not say where the new site was, although residents have been whispering it may be Cullinan.
“Because of land invasions, we are not disclosing [that information] until we move them there. Once they know, they will go and occupy, and you cannot even evict them,” he says.
In Mamelodi Ext 4, a group of flats were recently occupied. The residents were afraid they would be bumped off the list of those displaced.
The City of Tshwane was granted an eviction order, and occupants were given seven days to vacate the flats. Disgruntled residents then allegedly torched the home and office of ward 15 councillor Mmina-Tau Mashiane.
Gauteng Premier David Makhura’s spokesperson, Vuyo Mhaga, says they have identified a piece of land an owner was willing to sell, but a conversation still has to take place between the city and the national and provincial government about the city buying the land on behalf of the people.
The decision would be subject to council approval. In light of numerous failed council sittings in the City of Tshwane, Mhaga admitted it might be difficult to get approval, requiring them to look into the legality of using provincial money.
“We cannot secure the land identified for relocation without Council approval of the budget adjustment,” read a statement from human settlements.
Mhaga could not confirm timelines, but says the issue is high on the agenda.