The drive from Sandton to the far south townships of Johannesburg is costly, time consuming and unexciting. It is indeed a long road home. People usually experience the grind of this 50 km on a crowded highway, the N1. Even if they work in the east or west, residents of Soweto, Lenasia, Eldoradopark, and Ennerdale are sure to meet up at the usually congested Uncle Charlie’s interchange. From here they will connect to the only road that can take them home – the N12.
Maybe the advantage of peak-hour driving is the time they have to catch up with a friend or two. One sure sight is a broken-down bus or taxi – the vehicles in which residents of Orange Farm, Weilers Farm and Thembelihle informal settlement rely on to get to work.
This form of economic discrimination in transport is a harsh normality for a country rising into a new dawn. We’ve become accustomed to the spatial inequality that exists between the South and the North in the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Area. We’ve conveniently accepted the legacy of Apartheid: families and communities uprooted from their homes and forcefully relocated to live separately by race in these areas.
The 2016 Household Survey from Statistics South Africa found that Soweto, Lenasia, Eldorapark, Ennerdale and Orange Farm is home to more than 1.5 million people. Most of whom have inherited their parent’s houses and continue to live here because bonds and rents are unaffordable close to the city.
Indeed, the municipal plans and dedicated public sector funding have created access to social services and basic infrastructure. The 2016 Household Survey confirmed that on average 76% of the population do have access to basic services. Yet, in the context of quality of life for all, it just does not make sense. Look a little deeper into the abyss.
Mr P, is a 35-year-old born and raised in Lenasia and works in the East Rand. He travels Monday to Friday to work. It costs him R3500 a month in fuel. He spends half the amount of time in traffic as he spends at work.
If the working population of Soweto, Lenasia, Eldoradopark, Ennerdale and Orange Farm is estimated in the 2016 Household Survey at 1.2 million people, and they are travelling at least 80km every day to and from work, then conservatively the travel cost for the South is R4.3billion and more than 99 million hours of travel time per month. The 222 357 people who earn a monthly income between R4 800-R9 600 will spend at least 40% of their salary on travel costs.
The only state hospital in the South of Johannesburg is Baragwanath. Mrs V who wants to remain anonymous is 53 years old and has been employed as a domestic worker for nearly 25 years. She lives in Zakariyya Park east of Lenasia. She recalls that when she fell off a step ladder at her home, she could only get to a hospital the next day. Mrs V left her home at 3:30 am in the morning to catch a taxi and reached the hospital by 8 am. Shockingly Mrs V was only assisted that afternoon at 4 pm and left the hospital at 9 pm to catch a taxi for home.
Sadly, the abyss reveals the injustice of living in the South of Johannesburg. However, the communities of the South are resilient. They meet inefficiency with patience. The elderly bares the very long queues to receive their state pension. And yet they leave their homes before sunrise. The soul of the South is alive, and its collective consciousness is aware of the imbalance that exists.
This is expressed in recent years through the widespread and increasing occurrence of community protests in the Thembelihle informal settlement and Ennerdale. Calling for solutions to their problems, residents take to the streets to protest the poor quality of service that is dished out to them. The South of Johannesburg is rich. The residents are the source of a skilled workforce many of whom carry within them that entrepreneurial spirit. There are large tracts of vacant land suitable for housing and small-scale farming.
Apart from its location to the big mines, it is the connecting point between South Africa’s economic powerhouse Gauteng, through the Free State into the Western Cape, the second largest provincial GDP next to Kwa Zulu Natal. It also has the Vaal Dam, the source of water for all in Gauteng. What can we do and where are the big ideas in the South of Johannesburg?
I am hoping it’s not the malls of Sandton and Fourways and more dispersed housing developments. Instead, I am hoping for a consolidated urban form, increase in the number of schools and public health care, a more efficient and affordable public transport, access to professional sporting and recreational spaces and more public open spaces. This will require a healthier and inclusive conversation about development in the South of Johannesburg.
The people of Soweto, Lenasia, Eldoradopark, Ennerdale, Orange Farm, Weilers Farm and Thembelihle informal settlement are the heart in South beating the centre of power which is Johannesburg. It cannot be that we will forget. I will do what I can so that the promises of the past for the South of Johannesburg are not just dust in my review mirror.
Rashnee Atkinson is a student at the Wits University School of Governance based in Johannesburg.