Criminals prey on Vastrap’s disabled residents

20 Port Elizabeth families have been living in containers for four years

Photo of people in front of shipping containers

Twenty families with members with disabilities have been living in containers for four years. Photo: Joseph Chirume

By Joseph Chirume

14 June 2018

For more than four years, 20 people with disabilities and their families have been living in shipping containers in Vastrap informal settlement in Port Elizabeth. Now at last they are to be moved to newly built houses, says the ward councillor. But residents are sceptical.

In 2014, the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality moved hundreds of people from Vastrap into RDP houses in Qunu and Despatch. But many families were left behind, including 20 families in which at least one person has a disability. These 20 families were moved into shipping containers on the outskirts of Vastrap and supplied with bucket toilets and a communal water tap which they share with remaining residents of the informal settlement.

Community leader Khaya Makalima said the move was supposed to be temporary. But four years later they are still there.

Residents complain about living conditions, sanitation and the high rate of crime in the area. There is no fence around the containers.

Mzimkhulu Tshangani, 62, lives with his girlfriend, 57-year old Constance Ngalonkulu in one of the containers. Both have disabilities.

“Criminals come here at night and force open our doors,” said Tshangani. “They ransack our containers and take money, food and valuables. I have been robbed several times. We can not resist or fight back because of our physical condition.Most of the criminals are armed. There are too many guns in Vastrap.”

“We have tried to approach the police but it’s not helping either.”

“The environment is also not good for people to live. There are young children who are always ill because of cold weather and lack of electricity and the dirty environment.”

Bridget Fourie, 49, said she welcomed the promise to relocate them.

“This place is not healthy. We share the same communal water tap and bucket toilets with hundreds of shack dwellers from Vastrap.The municipality should have considered our physical situation before settling us here. How can we queue in the same line for services with able-bodied people?”

“We are also being robbed by criminals. They know our social grant pay dates. Criminals hide behind the containers and jump into the rooms at night. One woman was raped recently in her container in front of her five-year-old daughter. She was also stabbed in the back.”

Fourie, who suffers from TB, said the containers were very cold in winter and very hot in summer.

“There are a number of sick elders who need a healthy environment. They need comfort and warmth,” she said.

Lindelwa Ndlangeni, 44, lives alone. “The place has no electricity and is very dark at night. The doors are not secured. Criminals do as they want.”

“We wrote our names several times at the councillor’s offices to be considered for houses,” said Ndlangeni. “Councillors keep promising that they will move us to Qunu but I will only believe it after moving into my house. Maybe they have started campaigning for elections by telling us empty promises.”

Pongi James, 48, is blind and lives in one of the containers with his mother.

“The place is like a war zone. Criminals just kick open the doors and demand our grant money. We have been reporting to the police but our efforts are in vain. We are disabled and vulnerable. We can not resist the force of criminals.”

Pongi said people from Vastrap shacks dumped their refuse near the containers.

“This makes our place stink badly. We have young children playing outside on the dumping site, exposing them to health hazards,” added Pongi.

Ward councillor Vukile Jele said he had been tasked by the provincial Department of Human Settlements with identifying beneficiaries for 46 houses in Booysens Park. He said he wanted to offer some of the houses to people with disabilities and the elderly. Residents of the containers had come to his offices and filled in application forms, and the provincial Department of Human Settlements was verifying their eligibility for the houses.

“The process of issuing out houses starts in June,” said Jele. He planned to use the containers for mobile libraries, cooperatives and training centres.

Eastern Cape Department of Human Settlements spokesperson Phiwokuhle Soga said the matter was being dealt with by the municipality. Municipal head of human settlements Nqaba Bhanga said, “I cannot say anything now because I have to get all the necessary information about people living in containers in Vastrap.”

Police spokesperson Alwin Labans urged residents with complaints to approach the Community Policing Forum at the police station.