Delmas, (40 miles east of Johannesburg) , South Africa
We were bused each day between Ebenenezer Farm, the retreat centre we were staying at , and the build site near the main town centre of Delmas. The journey took around 20 minutes along some fairly rough back roads. Along the way we passed some illegal and possibly temporary settlements , where most people lived in corrugated iron shacks on average about 12 ft by 8ft - although some were much smaller. When we arrived at the build site we were in a district where there were very few people living in such conditions - most lived in houses/ bungalows. Most were modest, but many were as big as any bungalow in the UK, some with garages and even modern cars. Some children had modern smart phones , and all appeared well clothed. Sky satellite dishes appeared on some shacks. This apparent contradiction confused us all - and possibly stole away the sense that we were helping to lift people out of poverty. So I've listed below some of the insights that we picked up from the Armor and Urban Saints leaders to explain the situation.
- When the ANC came to power in 1995 they identified 9 townships which would be developed to provide proper housing and amenities - Delmas being one.
- The black South Africans who had already been in situ were given a plot of land which they formally own, in legal parts of the town which would be developed.
- The Government took the decision to provide sanitation , running water and electricity to each plot - but not housing. Hence even the shacks have these amenities.
- There is a government house building project, but it is slow and it is estimated that people have to wait at least 20 years for one of these modest dwellings (about the same size as we built).
- Otherwise people are left to develop their plots as they can afford. For those who are unemployed or disabled etc. - there are no state benefits.
- Unemployment is high. The main local employment is mining with associated industry. There is a legal quota to employ blacks but many employers complain about the work ethic of people from the townships. Many are hired by the day. Farmers will come in early and hire off the street for the day. Many families survive on one day's pay per week. Many will travel large distances for that day's pay.
- Those who find work in the cities and prosper are more likely to remain living in the township than in white areas. Many return just for the weekend.Hence money is coming into the area.
- Before his death Nelson Mandela was becoming very concerned about the lack of care and help that prosperous black people were showing towards their poor neighbours. National campaigns are being developed.
- The shanty town, as noted above, is technically illegal, Facilities are not provided and the authorities are considering their future - bulldozing being one.
- Hence Amor/Urban Saints would be breaking the law if they built a house in these areas, and the long term tenancy of the building could not be guaranteed. In some of the more violent townships, it has been fairly common for the recipients of new houses to be simply shot dead and the house occupied by armed gangs. Amor carefully selected Delmas as it's a relatively safe town , but like any town, there are areas which are more dangerous.
- Most of the people living in the shanty towns appear to be (illegal) immigrants from the rest of Africa. There is racial tension between these different groups.
- So the situation is complex - certainly the area is generally becoming more prosperous, but there is no mechanism to ensure that wealth is evenly distributed. So there is still real need and poverty. On the macro scale , some of the poorest shanty towns have developed right next door to multi billion dollar shopping malls. On the micro level, a corrugated iron shack is next door to a reasonably nice house.
- As mentioned in the main introduction, it was made clear to us by the four local church pastors, that the main benefit of our visit was to break down the still very strong apartheid based animosity between and blacks and whites. In the long term, it is the changing of these attitudes which will do most to irradiate poverty in South Africa
- The photos below are not mine. I trawled the net to find photos of Delmas. They don't really tell the story but hopefully give an idea.