Squatter camps conjure up images of poverty, filth and isolation for the regular person around the world. People often do not visit these secluded places, there is no time, there are urgent needs to attend to and the destitute are forgotten. The cry of a child is not heard. There is no song to sing as the dark endless days of helplessness grow.
“God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1Cor 1:27NIV)
Twenty years into democracy have caused white squatter camps to grow in South Africa, as the poverty level increases among white people. The majority of South African white people lived a pretty decent life before democracy. Even under apartheid poor people where part of society but with a difference. The government at that time provided low cost housing, adequate medical assistance and social grants. The poor people had dignity, they had a reason to smile and look up at the clear blue skies with a grateful heart.
What happened, democracy is for all the people of the land and every human being should live with dignity. The influx of African immigrants from neighboring countries caused considerable problems. Black South Africans used to living in rural communities, wanted more and soon the suburbs were overcrowded. There was nowhere to live, and the rise of squatter camps began in earnest. Any portion of unused land was immediately grabbed by immigrants and makeshift homes consisting of discarded items such as tin, cardboard, wood and metal were used. Soon a small hut was erected, followed by another, until there was no room left and so a new community rose. Electricity and water was stolen from nearby factories or houses, connected illegally. Hired toilet facilities were donated, and sometimes only two had to provide a community of more than one hundred illegal squatters.
Then greed set in, white people who rented a fairly decent three bed roomed house with one bathroom, was given notice to vacate the premises, because the owner had a lucrative deal. In the older suburbs around South Africa, houses were sparsely renovated and converted into tiny rooms, including the kitchen and outbuildings. A home, previously enjoyed by a family of four or five now could accommodate up to one hundred people all paying a small rental for the pitiful conditions. One hundred people, one bathroom and a shared kitchen, equal health disaster. The urgency to accommodate illegal immigrants grew at a staggering number and houses were converted into rooms and white families had no choice but to find other accommodation, which at that time was not easily accessible.
A proud father, able to work and provide for his family was suddenly without work, desperation sets in as he walks up and down the streets trying to find a job. The enforcement of the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) act slowly gains momentum and white people remain unemployed. Companies in South Africa are forced to give preference to black counterparts and turn the ratio of poverty from black to white. The favoring of blacks over whites in the workplace has escalated drastically even though white people are more than competent and trained to perform the duties required. We have a law and companies have no choice to abide with this racist law, apartheid in reverse.
Local churches and communities saw the plight of white people and began setting up squatter camps to house these needy people. People began to realize there was a real problem and their eyes opened to the crying children who begged for a piece of bread. Hungry, sick, cold and dying, helpless parents watched as their offspring suffered.
White squatter camps erected on land donated by private and government officials consist of informal structures, consisting of old depleted caravans, Wendy-houses, tents and wooden shacks. The land is usually on the outskirts of a town, and proper sanitation is not always available. The poor living conditions bring about another set of problems.
Children are dying, parents watch hopelessly as their loved ones suffer for the need of medication and proper medical facilities. Getting medical help is a nightmare for these people; no transport and no money do not help. The public hospitals are in shambles, often overcrowded and not enough personnel to deal with the desperate people. The dirt and unhygienic facilities reek of more infection for the sickly that urgently need help. A parent can sit the whole day, holding their baby and trying to bring some comfort as they wait for attention. There is no urgency, take a number and wait your turn, an attitude of uncaring staff that either do not care or understand the difficulty of a parent crying out for help. Perhaps the parent does have the opportunity to see a doctor and the examination are concluded within five minutes. There is the communication barrier between the doctor and parent. The parent leaves the hospital with a few Panado tablets and a dying child.
Respiratory problems associated with Asthma and pneumonia is a common factor in squatter camps. Children are starving, malnutrition and diseases are rampant. Diarrhea is a daily occurrence and untreated infections cause the death of a child.
White parents once the proud and dignified head of the family now lives in shame, as they cannot provide for their children. The distraught and depressed people try to find a way to bring food and other essentials to their families, often venture toward the busy roads of a nearby town, and stand with an old cardboard sign begging for some help from the passing traffic. Standing all day long in the sweltering heat with the sun burning their frail bodies, does little to lift the spirits of the destitute as motorists ignore their plight. Sometimes a kind and considerate passerby will give a few coins or bread, to the beggar. At the end of the day, there might be enough money to buy some bread. Dry bread and water for dinner, with no nutrition or sustenance, just enough to ward off starvation for another day.
In the suburbs, the churches and local communities committed to helping the white squatter camps gather clothing, food, blankets, broken toys and other objects from the locals who discard the useless stuff. A real treasure for the needy, who delightfully accept the second hand goods while trying to hold onto a shred of dignity. A child with a running nose, and a serious bronchial cough, gladly clings to a doll with a broken arm and smiles brightly at her new toy. The visits by the caring people and churches bring smiles, tears of joy and happiness to the destitute. For a moment, in their despairing lives, there is a flicker of hope; there is a gift and a smile from a dying child.
White squatter camps around South Africa are growing, as more and more people are unemployed, without a home, and no means to provide for themselves and their families. Children are the helpless victims and suffer the most. They do not understand the plight of the poor, it is their parents they depend on to feed clothe and sustain them. The parents having lost their lives lose their dignity and often become depressed and withdrawn. There is no help; there is no light and the new dark world they now live in remain a constant fear. With the little strength left, they try to protect their families, and few meager belongs from the random attacks of outsiders who come to pillage and rape their wives and children. This constant fear drives them to the brink of insanity and often suicidal thoughts cross their minds.
Tucked away in an unknown squatter camp, white parents live and watch hopelessly as their children, the joy of their life slowly dies. The South African situation does not get better, its gets worse as the days pass and as winter weather slowly edges into the country the call for help rises. Bitter cold days are upon the land, and the additional necessity of keeping warm is another alarming factor for most.
Squatter camps are not excluded to whites only; there are millions of blacks who live in the dirt and unhygienic places around the country. There are thousands of black people who live in these ghastly places because they are free. They have a job, an up market car and dress like Hollywood stars, because their cost of living expenses is zero. They plead poverty, collect grants from government departments, join syndicates and operate in illegal schemes all for the benefit of material gain. The inequality among the different races is broad and even though South Africa is supposed to be a democratic country, the signs of socialism, hatred and the unforgiving are rampant. The stigma of oppression remain foremost in the minds of many blacks who believe stealing, raping and murder of white people is a fair revenge for the apartheid years.
It takes real courage to begin all over again when everything seems lost. The people living in the white squatter camps do not have the courage to begin all over again. The last shred of dignity is lost when the child cries, “Daddy I am hungry, daddy I am sick,” and the powerless parent looks into the innocent eyes of the child without an answer.
“And now these three remain faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)