LIMPOPO, South Africa – Makhasa Village, gripped by poverty and a lack of employment opportunities, a community in Limpopo’s Vhembe District finds itself in despair following tropical cyclone Eloise.
Makhasa Village in the Collins Chabane Municipality in the Vhembe District was ravaged by the storm which left a trail of destruction and broken homes. At least 18 houses collapsed and scores of people were left without a roof over their heads.
The storm brought to the fore the stark reminder that not everyone has benefited from the dawn of democracy. Going to the village, one has to leave the tarred R81 road and turn right into a gravel road which the GPS calls an unknown road.
What follows is a torturous 20km drive. For people from Gauteng, this entails driving at less than 30km/h on the road while the locals appear to be used to it, flying past you as you try to navigate the terrain and avoid the many ditches.
You are greeted by cows grazing on the side of the road. Every second person you come across is wearing a yellow ANC T-shirt with the face of President Cyril Ramaphosa or that of his predecessor, Jacob Zuma.
A reminder that during campaign season, politicians make their way to the villages and interact with people. But what is seen is a clear indication that the party’s motto of a “better life for all” has still not reached the many villages here since the dawn of democracy and ANC rule.
Once done navigating the road and emerging from the trees to enter the village, one is greeted by a community that appears forgotten. Most of the structures there are of mud huts and incomplete brick houses.
Engaging the locals, the common thread is poverty and unemployment. The little they could conjure up in terms of finances went to building their mud huts which they called home.
Following the storm, those houses have been swept away, along with the little that was inside. This week, the families were trying to pick up the pieces of their lives while trying to look to the future.
But it’s a bleak future to look forward to. Rexson Chauke this week narrated how rainwater started filling up in his yard, surrounding the house until they saw some parts of the walls give in.
“The walls caved inside and fell on top of the wardrobe and bed. Luckily for us, there was no one inside when it fell. We are now forced to demolish it because the remaining walls are severely cracked,” he said.
With a sombre voice, Chauke adds that he and the family of six need to rebuild the structure to ensure everyone can be able to sleep.
“We need another structure, but I don’t know where we are going to find the money. Only one person is employed in the family and finances are very tight. We are all receiving a pension grant and that is enough to buy the bare necessities. Rebuilding will be hard on us,” he said.
A few streets away from Chauke is the home of Modjadji Nkuna who said she was grateful to God that her daughter and grandchild are still alive. The mud house collapsed while the pair were sleeping inside.
The yard has three other mud huts and an incomplete house, a sign of tight finances that many in the community speak of. She too explained that no one in the family is employed and they only survive on grants.
“We need a house but we can’t afford to rebuild it. We are unemployed. It’s a family of five and none of us is employed,” she said.
Her last hope, she says is government but it is not known what form of assistance will be forthcoming. The local mayor’s office promised to comment on the situation in the area but had not done so by the time of publishing.
Nkuna said government officials came to see the damage and said they would pass on the information to the municipality and take it from there.
She said since the visit and with every passing day, she lives in fear that the remain huts might give in.
“We don’t know what we are going to do when the rain comes back around. All the structures in the yard are made of mud and we fear that they too may collapse,” she said.
An older man, Bisenga Chauke, who has no family has been squatting at his neighbours back room since the collapse of one of his huts last week Sunday. He said he was counting his blessings as the one that collapsed was the kitchen and he was in the other he uses as a bedroom when it rained.
His sleeping hut was, however, not spared. Parts of the thatched roof were blown away and he had to use plastics to try and stop water from sipping in. He had to find tree branches to balance what remained of it. He was, however, advised not to stay in the house as the walls are cracked.
“I’m currently finding shelter from a neighbour who has allowed me to use the room outside their house but I don’t know how long that will last because the people who sleep in there will return,” he said.
The elderly man added: “I have no money to fix or a place to stay.
I don’t know how I’m going to be able to fix this myself.”
A local nduna, Willy Rikhotso also indicated that they feared what would happen should the rains return, adding that poverty in the area was making life for the residents extremely difficult.