Scores of families suffer in South Africa’s shanty towns

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SHAFAQNA - Hundreds of thousands of people are living below the poverty line in shanty towns in Cape Town, South Africa’s capital.

Even at the heart of the city, shanty houses can be seen all around. Under fancy buildings, the homeless lay unnoticed and uncared for.

John Swartz has lived in a shanty house for 31 years in Tana Baru Cemetery, the oldest graveyard for Cape Town Muslims located in the capital’s Bo Kaap area.

The historic area has become a tourist destination nowadays due to its cultural significance.

It is the burial site of many of Islam’s pioneers in Cape Town, including Tuan Guru and Ottoman scholar Abu Bakr Effendi, among others.

At the tender age of six, John was sent to a foster home. He came out with nothing to help him survive. It was then when he found the cemetery.

“My father died when I was six and my mom did not want me,” John recalled. “She chased me away.”

He has been looking after the graveyard ever since he first came to the cemetery, building a house and making a life there.

Living with his wife and two kids in a tiny, cramped, and run-down shack no larger than four square feet, John is trying to make a better life, but to no avail.

Feeling helpless, John tried to find the proper words.

“I feel really bad,” John said helplessly. “I have lived like this for years.”

“I say to myself: ‘You have to sacrifice yourself for your wife and children,’ but to stay like this? I am suffering,” he said.

For decades, he has been the caretaker of the cemetery but no one is aware of his difficult conditions.

“We don’t have a toilet or even running water. We use buckets to relieve ourselves. This is a very hard life,” Sarie, John’s wife, told Anadolu Agency.

She said that people around them helped with food and school fees for their children.

John said people gave them bread and chicken skins. “We collect chicken skins to make oil for food,” he said.

Regarding the two children, aged five and 10, he said they attend school, and understand the hardships of life.

Cape Town, a city of 3.75 million people, is dotted with slums such as Khayelitsha where more than half a million people live below the poverty line and struggle to afford clean water and electricity.

Lusanda lives in a shack in Khayelitsha’s suburb of Zweltisha.

“Nobody is employed in our house,” she said. “I travel into town looking for work and knock on doors for old clothes or something to eat.”

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