Tent town: Intent on change - People
from Tent Town Speak
The people living in
a shack settlement below the Greytown municipal cemetery are known as the Tent
Town people because that’s what they lived in for years ago their eviction in
1997 from a farm in the area. They were once labour tenants. Today, they’ve lost
faith in the legal system and the Department of Land Affairs that their
situation will ever change.
We are from Mhlopheni at Waterfall and were brought to Tent
town. We were transported by the trucks and then left on the hills. We were
found by Sphiwe Mazibuko (from AFRA), who took us to a hall. We left the hall
and they brought tents for us here. We stayed in the tents until the tents got
old. Then we got corrugated iron and planks. We erected houses with these
planks. But we are suffering here. We try to keep fowls but they get stolen. We
can hear gunshots but we don’t know what is happening and we are frightened.
This place is cold in winter. When there is hail, we live in water.
Then the government people come and tell us to vote and we
vote. What we want is the government to help us by taking us back where we came
from, because back there we used to crop and keep livestock. If one would feel
like having meat, one would slaughter a goat or hen. Or if you want to perform a
traditional ceremony, you would get a cow from the kraal. Now there is no money,
you cannot perform that ceremony. Even if we could afford it, we can’t go back
to the farm where our family is buried, where our ancestors lie.
We are hurt because we vote and we do not see the benefits
of voting. We have even said its better not to vote because we are not living
We would be happiest to go back home. There is not space in
the development houses and one would not get land for cropping and grazing. It
would be like living here. What we would like would be that the government takes
us back to our place, where our forefathers are. We want to go back to our
forefathers. To our forefathers at Waterfall, where we were born. We were born
there and our forefathers passed away there. Our fathers and our mothers passed
Now we do not have anything
Another View from Tent
My fathers and
greatgrandfathers brought us to the farm. We were labour tenants working on this
farm. But then the farmer told us to get rid of our livestock - cattle, goats -
all that was finished. He said he does not want us to erect houses and we asked
him where are we going to live when the house is old and leaking? Are we
supposed to get wet and not build new houses? He said new houses attract thieves
and he does not want them.
We then said to him,
“Please don’t play with us here. You make us get rid of our cattle and we
persevered through that. Now you do not want us to build houses. You just want
us to live in the outside and get flooded when it rains.”
That was the start of the
dispute and we did not have a good relationship with the farmer. Then the trucks
arrived. He did not tell us that they were coming, we just saw the trucks. It
was raining. The truck drivers stood here and we were told to remove our
belongings. We were loaded onto the vehicles. We went not knowing where we were
going, where we were going to be thrown off. We were taken to Greytown and
offloaded at the hall. The municipality then offered us tents and they were put
here and we live here as you find us here.
We are living here but we
are not free. Here one is living in poverty. Even when you sleep or wake up one
knows that one is living in poverty.
Some people told us to
wait because there would be a court case with regard to what the farm owner did.
Hhayi-ke, we waited for that and nothing has come up yet. Waiting outside as you
find us here. We can’t even see because of dust. We are living outside. There is
nothing we live on. Children go. They find temporary jobs with the Indians. We
don’t even get temporary jobs as we are old.
These people said that we
would be getting money. What hurt us is that we have never received it.
I was born on the farm
and worked at the farm even after I got married. My father and grandfather
passed away on the farm. My grandmother and mother passed away on the farm. Then
one day the farm owner took my cattle. I do not know where he took them. My
goats were also taken by him.
Then there was violence
on the farm and he took us and brought us here. Our living here is not like real
living. We die. Should one get sick, one does not get well. Yesterday we buried
a child. Really, there is no getting well if one gets sick. We are living in
water. We don’t have houses. When it rains we get flooded. One has to stand
because there is no way of sitting down. There is nothing safe here. Not even a
The farm was good
compared to here. On the farm you are able to keep cattle, milk for the children
to get maas. You are able to get a goat from the kraal and slaughter so that
children can eat. We are dependent on the government because we are old. And if
your child does not get employment, you have to use the government’s pension for
There is nothing good or
beautiful here. I would be thankful to go back to the farm. I would choose to
reside on the farm. On the farm one is able to crop and keep livestock. On the
farm you do what you like, like cropping.
Here we are just sitting.
When you feel like fresh maize you can only buy in town. You pay R3 for each
cob. Where is the money for purchasing this maize? On the farm you didn’t buy
maize, you take the grasscutter and go to your field, harvest and cook. I would
ask to be taken back to live on the farm.
I would like to take my
family and go back to where I am from. Our houses on the farm were just
demolished. The tractor ran on over houses. We came with nothing. They even took
our cows. It was raining when they took us away.
Staying here is not safe.
There is crime here. There is no work. We depend on this pension. One would hear
from the news that some people received such and such. With us, no. We have
received no assistance. We voted the president in but we do not see his
assistance, his assistance since we voted him in.
There is freedom, but for
us, we don’t have freedom like other people. I would be happy if we could be
We were removed from
Mhlopheni in 1997. We were harrassed by the land owner, who told his worker to
take out his gun and shoot us. We were too scared even to go out into the yard.
We were told not to go out to the toilet and we must relieve ourselves in the
yard. Then he demolished our houses with a tractor. The houses built of grass
were burnt. My stove, which I had just paid R1000 for, was left in the yard. The
land owner threw us out. He took our stuff and threw us out at eTolini. Rain
poured on us until the end of the day. A red car came at around six in the
evening. It was Sphiwe Mazibuko (from AFRA) who asked us what was happening and
we told him. Sphiwe found a camp for us and we loaded our goods, but most had
been stolen. The bicycle which my child rode on to school was stolen, even our
On the farm, we grew our
food. Here, I just sit and don’t do anything. I do not have money; I am just
spending the government’s money. My children are unemployed and just sit at
home. They don’t attending school as we do not have money.
All I am saying is that
if only the government can take us back to the land of our forefathers, to their
graves, I would be very grateful. I do not want to be taken to the township. I
love our forefather’s land. In the township I would not be able to crop and
We are living in a
graveyard. When it rains, those flowers and stuff placed by people maintaining
the graves get flooded into our houses.
There's ’flu. Children
die and I won't count how many of them have died. Just yesterday we were burying
a child. Crime - in the past year my cousin has been shot.
I have written a letter
to Premier Sbu Ndebele. I put in all the complaints in the letter. All of them.
I did not leave out even one. When I called to find out if the premier received
the letter, I was told he was overseas. They said it would be better to fax
tomorrow. That showed me they do not care about us. Where do we fax from? They
said the children's school. We said they do not go to school. You can go out
here and you'll find children playing because there are no schools here in Tent
It's better for the
premier to come and see with his own eyes. Especially when it rains. We want him
to see the cold days here. To come and see for himself how we live here. Water
gets into the house and into the furniture. We still haven't got a response from
the premier - we even sent a fax.
When I tried to find out
what was going on, I was told that the owner of the farm where we all come from
has denied that we ever lived on his farm. I said that he's denying that because
it has been years since we were evicted. A person who was 15 when he lived on
the farm is now 25. We were removed in 1997 and today it has been nine years.
Our forefathers have
lived there for 140 years. And now they say it's the white's land. Why was it
not the white man's land for the past 400 years? It's the white man's land now
that our government is governing. We are free today. We are free but being
chased away from our forefather's land. How are we going to say that we are
Where are the promises
made by the government during voting periods, when the candidates run around all
over the show. They even enter our houses and drink tea and make promise. They
give us food bags. Those bags are given so that we vote. Once voting is over,
everything is over.
We are refugees in South
Africa. So we ask the government to show us our land so that we can go and fight
for our land. I have the energy to go and fight because where I am I am a
What I can see is that we
are now tired. For 10 years we have been hoping that the government would assist
us and that the court would assist us. Now we are thinking of taking the
government to court. And should that fail? The children who were young at
Mhlopheni, that’s us, we are men now. It’s us who don’t even get employment. So
we will go back to the farm and stay there forcefully. If the boer shoots us, he
can just do that, because it’s the same as staying here. We have long been shot,
we’re dead. We are going home to fight for our land. The decision we have made
is to crawl back there; even if we get beaten, we’ll stay. Should he fight,
we’ll also fight. If blood is to be spilled, it will be as it happened in 1976.
We’re coming out of exile to fight for our land. We’ll go back by force.
To the government, we are
now saying: “Government, we voted for you and did everything but we do not see
you doing any work for us. We want to die now.”