IsiQalo township- new beginnings?

14 Jun

isiQalo township along Vanguard Drive, Cape Town

isiQalo township along Vanguard Drive, Cape Town

Sindiswa (21) with her baby infront of their shack

Sindiswa (21) with her baby infront of their shack

It is a sunny day in IsiQalo – an unlawful settlement that has caused an army of lawyers to fight about what should happen to the 6 000 residents. Most aren’t even aware of the process under way in the Cape Town High Court about 30km away.

Blue chemical toilets line up in a neat row two-by-two with padlocks on them. Women stream towards the taps to fill their buckets with water, while children play dangerously close to the traffic on Vanguard Drive.

Would you know my name, if I saw you in heaven? Would it be the same, if I saw you in heaven? We must be strong, and carry on… Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven blasts out of a nearby stereo.

IsiQalo means “new beginnings”, but it will soon be the end as the residents will have to move soon. The lawyers are arguing about where they should go – and whose responsibility it is to move them. Yet another new beginning.

“My first prayer to God is to bless me with a house,” says 43-year-old Rosemary Zweni, “it’s so dangerous here. I’m living here because I don’t have a choice”. Zweni moved here in January last year, from Barcelona township opposite the graveyard in Gugulethu where rent cost R750 a month.

She had no idea that isiQalo was situated on private land. “I didn’t know,” she says, “I came here because I see the other people’s shacks.”

Her one-roomed shack has gaps in the ceiling through which the rain runs down. She leaves a bucket underneath the leaks, and packs her blankets on a spot on the bed where she knows it is dry. There is a pot with water boiling on top of a gas burner, and a plate with blue pellets on the floor. Rat poison. She leaves it out whenever her youngest child, Liyema (5) is not home. There are a lot of rats. A paraffin lamp scares the rats away, when lit. A frequency radio provides some noise on quiet nights.

Zweni collects clothes and sells it at Nyanga Junction. She also works one day a week, on a Tuesday, cleaning a student’s flat in Rosebank. But it’s not enough to support her and her three children. She receives a social grant of R580 in total a month.

“I know anytime I can lose this,” she says.

Sindiswa Magwebelele carries a bucker of water on her head. She arrived in Cape Town from the Eastern Cape in 1998 and lived in Samora Machel township. The 21-year-old woman couldn’t afford her  rent so decided to move to IsiQalo in March last year. “You don’t pay anymore,” she says, adding that she did not know she was settling on private land. She has a 3-month-old baby Mbalentle, who sits in front of her shack in a pram in the sunlight while she does the washing. A hand painted sign on her shack reads: “don’t pls touch my propaty”. Grey portable toilets stand at the entrance. Three times a week she goes in a truck to empty the toilets, near the airport. Sunflowers wilt on the side of her shack.

Across from her shack is “Nosipho Barber and Salon” with a picture of the latest hair designs, and alongside, the Sqalo Spaza Shop advertising Coca-Cola. The shops are deserted.


Many times during the eviction hearing, Judge Patrick Gamble commented on the desperation of the people. “It (the living conditions) must be better than where they came from.”

Perhaps, but life in IsiQalo is still tough. Nanipha Sicatsha, 35, says life she has to go for to get water. “My house is raining from the inside and we use buckets for toilets.” In addition, there is no electricity. No water. Rats. And children get sick. “

Yet, she doesn’t want to contemplate moving again. “It’s terrible. I have nowhere to go from here”. While she completed grade 8 at school and has experience as a security guard and sewing, “I don’t find a job”.

According to Luvuyo Booi, a community leader, the City erected toilets and taps for the people of isiQalo, on a thin strip of land next to the settlement.  Booi explains that before there were 15 families sharing one toilet, each group is responsible for the key. Now there are about 35 houses using one toilet. There are 7 taps for 6000 people.

Booi who was born in the Eastern Cape, moved to Cape Town in 1997, where he worked at a retail store. He passed this land every day and night. After he lost his job, he did not have money to pay rent. “I didn’t notice this was private land. There was no fence, no signs,” he claims. At that time, in September 2010, there were only about 15 people living here. Booi moved here with his wife, two younger brothers and a son, who was then 7.

The land on which isiQalo is built is sandy and hilly. The low-lying parts are vulnerable to the weather. Vivian Madolo, 46, opened a crèche “New Beginnings” in January. She says she decided on this initiative because she was able to help the community take care of the children, and for self-employment. Parents paid R100 a child each month. Madolo, who has five of her own children, looked after 20 children, until the storms of last weekend completely flooded her crèche. “I want to start again, but I don’t know where.”



(an edited version of this article was published in the Sunday Argus, 9 June 2013)

One Response to “IsiQalo township- new beginnings?”


  1. Orientalism | Tangerine and Cinnamon - January 6, 2014

    […] house could only, I imagine, be made by someone who had never had to think too deeply about the circumstances which force people to live in informal […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: