By
msnbc.com
Part II

In the midst of Johannesburg’s gleaming financial district, I come across what first looks like a city rubbish dump, but on closer inspection, turns out to be a pavement “squat” — or as city officials prefer to call it, an “informal dwelling.”

Only a desperate man could have put together this ramshackle shelter: bits of corrugated sheeting and pieces of cardboard, crudely held together with lengths of rope, and covered with layers of plastic sheeting and old sacks. I can’t help being horrified. Right here in the city center, people are literally setting up house in the streets.

Indeed, life for Michael and his family is really tough. They have no money and there is no furniture in their tiny hovel, just a filthy old mattress which has to be put outside every morning so there is room inside to move. There is no electricity, of course, and they beg water from nearby shops and offices.

Michael Mfazwe
Michael builds a small fire with whatever wood he can scavenge and every day he looks for work so he can buy some food for his niece. Sometimes he is lucky and gets work off-loading containers at a nearby depot or he washes cars at the taxi stand the road. More often he has to rely on the charity of a nearby church.

Michael used to be a miner, but after he was laid off he found it impossible to get another job, so he moved to the city to look for work. He built the little shack so there would be shelter for family while he was out job hunting, never dreaming they would be reduced to living there on the street.

Michael’s woman friend, Nomonde, tells me that she misses her elder daughter, Precious, whom has been sent to stay with her mother back in their home village. She would prefer her daughter was with her, but as I look around at the filthy streets, the mountains of stinking litter around the taxi rank and the unemployed men milling about, I can’t help but shudder and remember all the terrible stories of child abuse I have heard.

I try to persuade Nomonde that Precious is undoubtedly better of left where she is. This is no fit place for a child of 10. Indeed, it’s simply not fit for any human being.

And I can’t help asking myself whether many of those still seeking their fortune in the city might not have been better off if they had stayed at home.

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