South Africa: Lindelani Women Endure Decades of Inequality


The women of the shack settlement north of Durban say they have been politically excluded and ignored by the municipality since the 1980s, leading to the rise of a 'feminised revolution'.

Access to basic healthcare and adequate and affordable housing are crucial basic human rights declared by the South African Constitution, as well as the United Nations World Health Organisation. But for the Lindelani shack settlement in KwaMashu, just north of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, access to both these rights remains a challenge.

Living conditions in the area display a harsh injustice pressing for drastic restructuring. Social outcomes in the settlement also demonstrate a strong nexus between the politics in the area and the accessibility of public services.

Some of the women from Lindelani C-Section say the 30-year wait for improved access to basic healthcare and adequate housing indicates a strong political disjuncture that has seen development and economic opportunities grind to a standstill. The women say the exclusion is a historical legacy of political dissent that continues to cripple the area's post-apartheid progress.

The group chant struggle songs. Each woman shouts the phrase "Qina (Stand firm)!" before standing up. Taking turns, they describe the condition of their homes and the residents' struggle to access health services. The tone gradually heats up as emotions intensify, with the scorching heat, sweat and shortened breaths multiplied.

'Politically excluded'

The group had gathered on the site of a recent fire that severely injured two children, aged eight and 12, on 5 January. The fire is said to have been caused by a candle left unattended. Sibongile Mazeka, the mother of the injured children, was working nearby when she was told her house was on fire. She says she rushed for her children, who had managed to make it out of the burning shack. Two of her three children were hospitalised. Women from the area have since helped rebuild Mazeka's home.

"The municipality has ignored our existence. We've been politically excluded since the 1980s and we've carried this burden post-democracy. Nothing about this place indicates that we are living in a democratic country, governed by black leaders.

"We are a rejected community, but we refuse to remain in this state. A feminised revolution has evolved. The women of Kwa-C can do anything. We are united and at this point, impenetrable," says shack dwellers' movement Abahlali baseMjondolo chairperson Zanele Mtshali.

The group of about 20 women say they often hold community meetings on the pathway because they have no community hall or roads. The chosen venue is symbolic of their message.

Mtshali says the recent shack fire signals a cry for help for the Lindelani settlement, with its underlying social ills and limitations in access to health services. Residents say the drastic population growth has worsened the impoverished and insecure conditions.

Unjust reality

"Thoughts about my future dimmed until it was completely dark. Suicide seemed my only way out. I couldn't bear the pain of suffering anymore." Zama Mngadi says these words while trying to disguise her tears. In an instant, she regains her might and the unintentional collapse of her guard dissipates. Instead, she smiles.

Mngadi, 25, lives with her 62-year-old mother in Lindelani C. Her mother suffered a stroke in 2017 and is now bedridden and can no longer talk. Their mud house slants sideways and a hole in the corner exposes the now worn-out logs that make up the bones of the wall.

She says her dreams and aspirations have been destroyed by the unjustness of her reality. "I cannot work or go anywhere because my mother needs constant care. She cannot visit the clinic because there are no roads here. The only way she could make it was when my older brother could carry her on his back.

"After he left, I had to make means to help stabilise her daily. I am not strong enough to carry her, both physically and financially. We buy adult diapers and medicine from the disability grant. These are free and necessities she cannot reach," says Mngadi.

Generational drift

The group of women say they have been spectators to the housing developments that those around them have attained. Without any progress, the drift into direness is passed on to younger generations.

"Our children grow up angered because they are exposed to poverty and inequality. They need to be protected. How do we do that when we still experience the impacts of dispossession and political violence in KwaZulu-Natal?" asks Mtshali.

Mtshali represents the voices echoing in the tightknit passages between the houses, all demanding their vote's worth.

"While we continue to live in communities that are still reminders of the past that denied us opportunities, we also try and create a stronghold of empowered women. We are not afraid of doing things for ourselves, because we are more than capable," says Busisiwe Magoso.

Magoso, 48, built her home. The two-room mud house has sheltered her and her four children. She points to the tool she uses to make bricks. Mabutyana says she and her eldest daughter make about 100 bricks of mud a day.

"I built my own home. I have accepted that nobody is coming to save me or anybody from these conditions. I make my own mud-made bricks and have managed to build two rooms that have been my home for more than 20 years.

"We watch while many enjoy democracy and their human rights respected. Financially, I may be suffering. But I use my hands to show my children the importance of having a home and independence. It's important to remember that as black women," explains Mabutyana.

'Nothing has changed'

Another woman shouts her grievances from among the crowd.

"I have been here since 1983 and nothing has changed. I have grown old here, even my grandchildren have children now. There is no dignity in spending your entire life in a shack. When it rains, I sleep with a bucket next to me to protect my bed. We have watched development and service delivery happen all around us in KwaMashu and the rest of Lindelani. This exclusion continues to see us living in a community that has no access to roads or decent homes. Lindelani is still 'waiting'."

Ntombizanele Spenuka,55 , lost her left foot to diabetes three years ago. She cannot use the communal toilets and showers because of her physical condition. She uses a borrowed wheelchair and her eldest daughter, who suffers from epileptic seizures, helps her get around.

"A neighbour lent me this wheelchair. It's uncomfortable because it is too small. I have developed sores from using it. When I go to the clinic, I wear an extra skirt underneath because by the time I make it up the road, I am already dirty. I depend on my daughter to get around, but she has severe epilepsy. She has fallen numerous times trying to push me to the clinic," explains Spenuka, who has lived in the settlement for more than 20 years.

Elsie Mthembu, 64 , says she built her house in 1983 when she heard about the vacant land. "I had been renting a home in Umlazi with my husband and children. One day the landlord told us she was giving us three days to vacate the room. A friend took us in, allowed us to sleep in her kitchen for months while we looked for alternative accommodation. I heard about the vacant land and that people could build their houses and rushed to claim this plot.

"All these rooms are made of mud, but I'm not discouraged because my children have a place to call home. In the end, all we want to be is the best mothers to our children, but the government lets us down.

"We were told our votes are our voices, but we are not seen or heard. Neighbouring communities are living in better conditions and even our councillors do not understand the permanent implications caused by living in an impoverished settlement. Culture is dismantled along with our dignity, sadly this crosses over to our children and grandchildren," says Mthembu.

The eThekwini Municipality and KwaZulu-Natal Department of Human Settlements' commitment to the women, children and differently abled residents of Lindelani when it comes to housing projects and service delivery is still unclear. No response was received to explain planned measures to improve accessibility and adequate housing by the time of publishing.

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