Text by Maureen Velile Majola
Photo Album by Akhona Hailele
The residence of Alexandra Township
As per Wikipedia Alexandra Township was established in 1912 on land that was originally owned by a farmer, a Mr H.B. Pepenfus, who tried to establish a white residential township there, naming it after his wife Alexandra. However because it was (at that time) a considerable distance from the centre of Johannesburg, this was not a great success. Consequently, in 1912 Alexandra was proclaimed as a so-called “native township” because the township was proclaimed before the South African 1913 Land Act, it was one of the few urban areas in the country where black people could own land under a freehold title.
Alexandra is now 107 years old and the living conditions of its people keeps deteriorating. The township was built on 800 ha of land, which was designed to fit a population of about 70000 people. The township is over populated and it consists of informal settlements mostly. The houses and yards which were created at the beginning of Alexandra have since been covered by other structures that have emerged over the years.
107 years of Alexandra and 25 years of Democracy later, the residence of Alexandra took to the streets to protest against the City of Joburg for neglecting the community. They started demanding that the current Mayor Mr Herman Mashaba must come to Alex to address the community and hear their grievances. But the Mayor has not come to Alex or even made effort to listen to the community that he serves and that he promised two years ago that he was going to transform it.
The residence of Alex are angry at the City of Joburg for putting little to no effort into changing the township. There has been a great number of illegal mushroom structures that have been erected over the years and most of those structures are said to have been built by foreign nationals. A great number of elderly people in the community are still living in one roomed houses with their children, grandchildren and their great grandchildren. There is no privacy in the homes and a lot of the children are exposed to sexual behaviours at a young age because everything happens under 1 room and some children see their parents having sexual intercourse. The housing issue doesn’t just affect the home structure but it also affects how the child grows up and the things they get exposed to at a tender age.
The township’s pavements have since become nonexistant in most streets because people have built shacks or illegal houses on them, some houses are built on top of drainage systems and water pipes, which are now leaking with water on a daily basis. The city of Joburg has failed the community of Alex in more than one way. The new RDP houses that were built years ago are owned by foreign nationals who claim to have tittle deeds to the houses yet our own South African residence of the community are still waiting for houses, they are stuck with C forms that are not helping them with anything.
The community came together on the 5th of April at the Alex San Kopano Hall with hopes that Mayor Mashaba would show face and hear what the community had to say, but to their dismay he didn’t come and he didn’t even send an apology but instead he mocked the community members by taking to the streets of twitter and saying Alexandra Township is not his problem but that of the ANC government.
Residence were angered by the Mayor’s no show on Friday and they decided that they will march to the City of Joburg Regional offices in Sandton, that they will occupy Sandton and demand to be heard by the Mayor and for him to personally receive the community’s memorandum. The community gathered at Alexandra San Kopano on the 8th of April and started with their peaceful march to Sandton. The march moved from San Kopano 12th avenue to Joe Nhlanhla Street, where it turned at 9th Avenue and went to Selborne Street, proceeded straight towards Pan Africa on 1st Avenue. The community kept singing saying “siyongena sigijima esandton, hayi uMashaba uyasaba” and “10km into encane, 10 km into encane” as they marched towards Arkwright Avenue in Wynberg.
Thembani Manana, a young woman from Alex stood on top of a tyre and addressed the community as we were marching. She told them that they must not push through the pipe line and to make sure that we don’t leave anyone behind as we need to all arrive in Sandton as one community. Thembani in our interview with her emphasised that this was not a political march but this was a march by the community of Alex trying to get the attention of the Mayor and that we should look at all the factors that are affecting our community. Thembani was amongst the leaders and organisers of the protest.
The march proceeded towards Grayston Drive in Sandton, the entire Grayston intersection was closed off. For the first time in years the residence of Alexandra closed off the big road that goes to the big square mile of South Africa that generates billions of Rands for the country. The JMPD commander Spires, instructed the masses that they were not allowed to take tyres into Sandton, they cannot burn anything there. This was confusing as they were allowed to carry tyres in Alex, this showed how different the two areas are, this said a lot to me as a young person who grew up in Alexandra because I got to understand the power dynamics of the community and Sandton.
The march proceeded to the City of Joburg offices where we waited for hours to speak to the Mayor but he never came. Outside the CoJ’s office the community gathered singing and chanting for Mashaba to come and address them. We spoke to a group of women who expressed that this march is important for the community of Alexandra and the Mayor and his office must stop trying to make it seem as though the march is one of the political party’s propaganda but the Mayor must come and face the community of Alexandra and listen to their plea.
We spoke to mam Dikeledi Ntsimane who told us that she was in the struggle and her left eye was shot with rubber bullet. She expressed that even after everything she went through she still stays in a one room house, stuck with a C form that was issued to her by the department of housing but she still has no house. She expressed how painful it is to see some of the community members who’ve been waiting for houses have passed on without receiving their houses and how foreign nationals have houses yet they don’t have them. She told us that she wishes that Meyer Mashaba could come and listen to their grievances.
Mayor Herman Mashaba sent his City Manager to speak to the community of Alexandra and address them, but councillor Marema informed the city manager that he will not address the people of Alex as they are not there for him but for the Mayor. He was told if the Mayor fails to come and address the community then they will call on the President of South Africa to come to Alexandra on Thursday the 11th of April 2019. The memorandum was not handed over to anyone and the community made its way back to Alexandra Township in a peaceful march. When the march reached Pan Africa in Alex, the police started to open fire and they shot at a few woman saying they were vandalising and kicking tomatoes. But to my surprise the tomatoes were there even in the morning when we passed there. By this time Pan Africa had almost 30 police cars and vans that were making their way into the community saying they need to make sure that they don’t close the roads or strike again.
Mayor Mashaba truly disappointed the community of Alexandra by not showing up, now we wait for the President to come and address the community.