‘I don’t have a vision for my children, I can’t see a future,’ Vena states.
‘When I arrived from the Eastern Cape 14 years ago, I thought I would find a job. When I voted in 1994, I believed I was voting for a better place to live and a job,’ says the softly-spoken single mother of three children aged 10, 14 and 19.
In 1992, like so many others in Khayelitsha, Vena boarded a bus from Cala in the Eastern Cape and arrived in the neighbouring Western Cape with the hope of finding a better life.
‘I wanted a better life, I wanted to work, but I have found no work,’ says Vena, who lives in the densely populated Silvertown, or SST as it is known among locals, one of the older informal settlements in Khayelitsha.
Instead of a better life, Vena now finds herself unemployed, the sole parent of three children and living on a R180 child support grant.
The family doesn’t have a toilet or clean water close-by. They have to walk among the surrounding shacks and down a sandy road to get water from a standpipe shared with several hundred other people.
In the opposite direction, a sand dune with a few bushes serves as a toilet.
‘I don’t feel okay. I am losing weight. I feel tired and the nurses at the clinic can’t find out what is wrong,’ explains a depressed Vena, adding that everyone in the family has chronic diarrhoea.
‘Our stomachs are not well. We also have to control our stomachs so we can go to the bushes during the day and not at night as it is unsafe. But sometimes it doesn’t work so we use a bucket that we keep in the front room,’ says Vena.
‘All of this affects our children. You can treat the diarrhoea, but it will be back. My children think this is the way humans are supposed to live. They take it as it is; they don’t say anything,’ says Vena.
It’s 10.30am, but Vena tells Thunzi they have not had a meal and that she was unsure when they would have money to buy food.
A few half empty jars with toffees in bright pink wrappers and multi-coloured chewing gum balls are placed near the doorway in the hope of enticing buyers.
‘I try to sell some sweets and chips, but the little profit we make is used to buy food so we can’t buy more supplies,’ says Vena, the flies forming a crust on her bare feet thrust into a pair of plastic green thongs.
It’s summer in Cape Town and the southeaster blows non-stop, sweeping sand into the dimly lit front room.
Floods are part of the family’s daily existence in winter with poor drainage causing water to stagnate between the shacks, drawing even more disease and flies.
Vena, a slight woman who despite the heat is wearing a long-sleeved sweater, explains that she feels so depressed and ill that she is unable to make the trip to the tap to collect water: ‘I don’t feel happy. Life is hard.’