Our little car toddled along the freeway for about twenty minutes. Crunched in the back, I gazed out the window as Francis, our guide, source, and driver, told us the present state of the shanty towns and the problems with the government run camps and why Johannesburg has become the way it is today. We came over a hill and Francis pulled over and pointed where a mass of color specked the bottom of the hill for miles. This is Diepsloot.
We pulled in on a dirt road and parked beside a day care. A few small children poked their heads out from a shack classroom to see what was going on. I snapped a few photos, which drew the attention of a few more children. A small one came out to us. He did not smile and was not anxious about my camera like most of the children have been. I let him see his photo. Then, remembering how much joy it had brought the children at the museum, I turned the camera around and let him snap a photo. He might have been to young to understand it, but I think it eased him a little bit. We said goodbye as a man from the camp who could translate for us got in the car with us and we drove to another part of the camp. We parked along the main street where the shops are; the only paved portion as far as I could tell. With a camera slung over each shoulder, I got my first real look at the shanty town of Diepsloot.
Stacked almost on top of each other, scrap metal walls, crumbling cement, wood, and fencing made up the tiny homes of the town. A row of port-a-potties served as the community bathrooms, but on some streets a small river of sewage sailed through the dirt road, carrying with it rotting food and rubbish. Chickens and crows walked along it, plucking food from the filth. Clothes are hanging to dry in front of nearly every house, but children still run around with dirty clothes and dried snot on their faces. Many of the people and children have rotting teeth. A woman told us that her roof leaks when it rains and floods her house. We asked two women if they had any prized posessions that they kept with them. One woman said that all she needed was a home. The other woman said the only thing she took with her was her son.
Despite all this, everyone smiles at us. Children run around, laughing. They are happy to see us. Children are most eager to have their photo taken. Most people who saw my camera would stop and hold a position until I put the lens down. Children gather and come closer, they smile and laugh, or alone they frown. They like the attention. I know I’m no longer capturing a natural moment when that happens, but I like to think that the naturallness of their smile and the loudness of their laughter is an indication that they find joy often. Perhaps because they are the young and careless. Perhaps because being poor is all they have known.
[Photo: Children in the neighborhood.]
Children are not just precious being to love; they are a gauranteed source of income from the day they are born. Women receive a pension for each child, and there are many children in Diepsloot. Someone told us today that the unemployment rate is 50%. Even the educated cannot find jobs. The government gives a pension to people without jobs, too. So with no work and with children, a woman can live; a family can survive. There is no school for the children, no work for the adults. And that is the way it is in Diepsloot.
[Photo: Mother Zoleka Jimana and son Ntanganedzeni. Zoleka relies on the R210 she receives each month in child support.]
We did not get to spend as much time there as I would have liked. Every street we returned provided an interesting photo and probably a good story to go with it. Tiffany and I are looking into a few leads we got today, including a grandmother who cannot read or write and is responsible for the care of her three young grandchildren. The mother has died of illness and the father is no where to be found. Worse, the grandmother is an alcoholic. Someone who watches over her suspects a government official is swindling some of her money. Because she cannot read or write, a government person has set up her banking and takes care of her money, does the grocery shopping for her. But someone suspects she is not getting all the money she is entitled to. It’s something we’re looking into.
There are a lot of stories in Diepsloot. It is the cite of the infamous burning man, the initial attacks on stores owned by foreigners. There is a clinic where women give birth. There is so much….
Our topic has broadened so Tiffany and I are struggling to narrow it down. I don’t think we’ll be changing groups. For the remainder of the week and into the weekend I think we’ll be checking out the other places we wanted to check out for stories. Like the police station, where families have become squatters for safety. A school for refugee children. And the Central Methodist Church. I don’t think we’ll able to do a story there because they probably won’t allow photos of the women and children, but I think it’s something we need to see while we are here.
PS – Hope you enjoyed the photos. Was finally able to get some up here for you. I also added two photos from previous days in their respective posts.