“We are not criminals. We are a group of normal people with normal aspirations and normal challenges.”
This was the response of most of the squatters living in the old backpackers building at the foot of Naval Hill, after Bloemfontein Courant had reported on residents’ concern about the growing number of squatters finding a home at the foot of the hill.
Apart from the inhumane circumstances that the squatters are living in, residents are concerned about the growing incidents of criminality in the area.
But the squatters say they have nothing to do with the crimes being committed in the area. Isaac Sekitla, one of the squatters, says although the police always harass them, most of them are very, very peace loving citizens.
“We have very strict rules in the backpackers house when it comes to crime. What the police don’t realise, is that people from outside commit crimes in the area and run through Naval Hill, creating the impression that we are the culprits.
“The police harass us regularly to take our fingerprints and interrogate us, but they seldom find something to link us to the crimes. Why would we commit crimes and run to the very same place where the police will find us?”
Sekitla says all they want is proper housing and job opportunities to prove themselves to society. “Some of the guys are plumbers, some are builders, and I even have a certificate in computer programming. We just need to be given a chance,” Sekitla says.
But unemployment and the mistrust with which they are being treated by society is not the only challenge they have to face on a daily basis. Percy Magatloane, one of only a few female squatters, says although they have a roof over their heads, life is hard in the backpackers house.
“We live in bad conditions in the house. There is only one toilet for almost 20 of us. Sometimes we have to relieve ourselves in the bush. And if that is not enough, we also get the worst treatment outside of the house.
“When you approach people for help, you have to do something for them in return before you get any assistance. That is why we don’t even consider voting on 8 May. The politicians promise us things, but when they have to help us, they are nowhere to be seen,” she says.
Bloemfontein Courant sent several requests for comment to Qondile Khedama, General Manager: Communication at the Mangaung Metro Municipality, but received no response by the time of going to press. -Pieter Delport