PRETORIA — A section of the Old Johannesburg Road in Midrand has become home to more than 500 Lesotho nationals who left their country because of poverty and unemployment for the greener pastures of Egoli, the city of Gold. But they have found out that all that glitters is not gold and that the streets of Gauteng are definitely not paved with gold.
The settlement mushroomed about five years ago and the economic refugees live in squalor without lights, water or sanitation. But for all the hardships of life in an informal settlement, these refugees say life is still better than back home. Most of them have found contract employment and, like compatriots who work in South Africa’s mines, their earnings are sent to the families left behind in Lesotho.
Mohau Mosiuoa, 26, a married father of two, said living in a plastic shack was the only way to save money. “We work for contractors and the money we get paid is not enough for accommodation in the townships. “We earn about R80 or R90 a day. Staying here we are able to save money to send home,” said Mosiuoa.
He said there were no jobs in Lesotho and he had come to South Africa for a better life.
“We are happy here but our only problem is the police who demand money from us even though we have explained our predicament to them. “They have accused us of stealing cables but we are here to work, nothing else.” Hansa Lesitha, 27, also said the police were their main problem.
“I have been in South Africa for three years now working as a builder mostly. We stay here peacefully but the police are harassing us. In the townships we will be expected to pay rent, which we cannot afford. Here we are also closer to work, which means we can walk. “Some of us go home after a year or so because we are really struggling, but compared to Lesotho we are better here. We are poor in Lesotho and that’s why we opted to stay in these conditions,” said Lesitha.
Another Lesotho national who asked not to be named said: “My wife and children do not know the kind of conditions we live under. I would like to keep it that way. To them I am a father who is working hard to support them. It will pain them to find out the kind of condition I live under,” he said. Mosobi Ropwane, a 52-year-old mother of four runs a spaza shop. She was the only woman during our visit.
“I sell chips and sweets to make ends meet. I am also supporting my family back home. It is very sad because some of these men work hard and, come month-end, the employers disappear without a trace with their money. “But because of unemployment in Lesotho that is a risk they are taking,” said Ropwane.
Police spokesperson Pinky Tsinyane said she was unaware of the police harassing or demanding bribes from the residents of the settlement. But the spokesperson for the Tshwane metropolitan municipality Nomasonto Ndlovu said the metro police had been to the squatter camp several times to demolish the immigrants’ structures.
“The trespassers keep coming to rebuild the shacks. Since most of them are from Lesotho, we have engaged the relevant national government departments, such as health and social development, housing and home affairs. “There is currently very little that the municipality can do in terms of providing a long-term plan of accommodating or placing them in a shelter,” Ndlovu said.
— The New Age