Photo and video feature: Bekezela, the Newtown community defying the Red Ants
Reporting and pictures by Yeshiel Panchia and Michel Bega
The community of Bekezela is on the old stand of Bekezela College, situated under the M1 highway in Newtown. About 500 people call this space their home. The college closed its doors in 2001. Around the same time, it is alleged that Prasa took control of the property and accommodated some members of their security staff on the premises. Picture: Yeshiel Panchia
Take a closer look at the people living on the borderline of progress or eviction.
On June 2, members of the Red Ants arrived at the community of Bekezela in Newtown, and enforced a brutal eviction on behalf of the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa).
Bekezela, which means “perseverance” in isiZulu, embodies its name.
Residents obtained a high court judgment allowing them to return later that day, but their future remains uncertain.
These are the people of Bekezela.
Nhlanhla Khumalo arrived in Johannesburg in 1993 and was a student at the Bekezela College. After the school closed he and a group of former students took up accommodation in a building adjacent to the property. Frustrated by witnessing the constant harassment of residents living under the M1 highway nearby, he took it upon himself to seek legal counsel to utilise the college structures for accommodation. Picture: Yeshiel Panchia
In 2011 Nhlanhla obtained a court order allowing him and others to occupy the land, which is when he extended an invitation to the community living under the M1 to use the premises as well. This provided homes for many and reduced crime in the area. Picture: Yeshiel Panchia
The evictions earlier this month initiated by Prasa and executed by the Red Ants saw 16 people hospitalised. The ownership of the land is contested by the residents and Prasa. Sonto Buyambo is a recycler and also produces decorative cushions to earn a living. She has suffered greatly through evictions over the years, the most recent of which saw her daughter Phumzile having to leave and stay elsewhere with friends. Picture: Michel Bega
Resident Itumeleng Malatsi is passionate about music and earns a living working as a DJ and events manager. He hopes to start an internet radio station in the near future. The eviction left his events sound system damaged and much of his goods and savings stolen. To supplement his income he is also involved in recycling. Picture: Michel Bega
Taps are available within the bounds of the community, as are portable toilets which are cleaned twice weekly – these initiatives were led by Nhlanhla, who is viewed as a father by many in the community. The community is not supplied with electricity. Picture: Michel Bega
Lucia Khumalo, the wife of Nhlanhla, makes traditional hats and skirts to bring in some income. The hats are made using recycled cardboard, with purchased material and beads. Lucia can make 50 hats per day, which she sells at a nearby shop. She also runs a food store, and prepares meals for the needy living in the community. Picture: Yeshiel Panchia
With many members of the community working as recyclers, Nhlanhla is looking towards starting an NPO on the premises to provide basic service delivery and recycling services in the future and a possible materials recovery facility. Many of the materials collected for recycling were trashed or stolen during the eviction. Community members are rebuilding their stocks, which are collected from all across the city. Picture: Michel Bega
Sipho Dlamini, a former resident of Bekezela who regularly visits the community, earns a living as a car guard. He is still active within the community and believes that government should take a stand as to the position and future of Bekezela. Picture: Michel Bega
The residents are struggling to rebuild their lives and are appealing for any help: legal aid, food donations, warm clothes and blankets. Picture: Michel Bega