Government only knows us when we go to vote – Iterileng residents

Residents of the informal settlement near Laudium say government has not provided them with assistance to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

Residents of Iterileng informal settlement near Laudium queue for food packages on 20 May 2020. Picture: Abigail Javier/EWN

CENTURION - Residents of the Iterileng informal settlement near Laudium in Centurion lined up on 20 May 2020 to receive hampers that included 10kg maize meal, food, masks, soap and sanitiser.

Eleven thousand hampers were to be distributed from 8:00 am but residents began gathering in the early hours, the queue snaking through a nearby sports field.

The distribution of the hampers was a joint operation by Meal SA, Operation SA, the community of Tshwane Muslims, and other partners.

Gloria, a single mother of three, is one of 11,000 to receive a hamper.

Gloria, left, stands outside her home, next to her sister, Betty. Picture: Abigail Javier/EWN

She walked from her home in the informal settlement at 11:00 am and joined the lengthy lines 30 minutes later.

By 1:00 pm, she had reached the section of the queue squeezing out onto the street. Social distancing was proving a bit difficult in some parts of the queue as it moved in narrow spaces.

People in the queue squeeze through a narrow passage. Picture: Kayleen Morgan/EWN

Many other residents around Gloria were carrying chairs and crates to sit on. She stood carrying her brother’s baby.

She had become tired of waiting but then the queues began to move faster.

The process appeared to be well-coordinated as it was led by the police and organisers, with volunteers found nearly at every corner of the queue to control the movement.

People rushing to keep up with the queue ahead of them. Picture: Kayleen Morgan/EWN

Nearing the distribution point, Gloria had to rush to keep up with the queues.

Her hands were sanitised by one of the volunteers and her thumb was marked with a blue pen.

This was to avoid residents from returning to get a second hamper.

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After receiving her hamper, Gloria headed home.

Her house is located deep in the settlement. It is a small structure that she shares with three of her children. She has been staying here for about a decade.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, she has been struggling to make ends meet as she is unable to work and does not receive an income. Most of the money she used to earn was through piece jobs. She now only has the Sassa grants with which to provide for her children, but she said it’s not enough.

Betty, Onalenna (Gloria’s daughter) and Gloria. Picture: Kayleen Morgan/EWN

“We don’t have soap to wash the clothes. There’s no electricity … sometimes we don’t have water. The water isn’t coming out of the tap, we are struggling,” she said.

Gloria said Iterileng has not received any help from the government – even before the arrival of the coronavirus.

“Government knows us when we go to the vote. They go house to house. After that government is gone.”

Social activist and one of the co-organisers of the food distribution, Yusuf Abramjee, said that the need in Iterileng was massive and many foreign nationals formed part of the community.

“This community is desperate. These people have not received any food aid from government. So, we’re here to try and make a difference,” he said.

Aerial view of the snaking queue. Picture: mzaidphotography

Gloria and her family said they were scared of COVID-19.

Onalenna, Gloria’s eldest daughter, said that it’s very difficult for them to stay one metre from each other because the area was small and congested.

“Sometimes when we hear someone cough, we get very scared because what if that person has the virus?”

The family said the government had not been to Iterileng to provide screening or testing of coronavirus, but she wished that they would.

With schools set to reopen on 1 June, Gloria said she was not sure if she would send her children back to school.

Onalenna said she could not go back.

“We can’t have these masks all day at school. So, we can’t go to school. It’s difficult for us to breathe properly,” she said.

“I’m afraid to go back to school because maybe someone in the class might have the virus and we won’t know that.”

Onalenna added that she would rather repeat the academic year than go to school with the new regulations.

Gloria said that the food they were given would only last her family a few weeks and she hoped that the organisations involved would return to offer further hep.

In the late afternoon at the point of distribution, small groups of people could still be seen waiting.

Some of them also asked if those distributing food and sanisation goods would return.

Smiley Essa, one of the co-organisers of the food aid, said that they would be continuing distributions to informal settlements in Tshwane and if there was a need to return to an area they had already been in, they would do so.

Residents return home after receiving their hampers. Picture: Abigail Javier/EWN