PICTURE ESSAY: Where people live alongside rats and ‘no one cares’

Cape Town – “They come and go and nothing has changed. This place will always be the same, no one cares,” these were the words of Langa resident and ANC activist Eunice Patiwe, describing how politicians visited yet still the filth over-runs the area.

Patiwe, who has lived in Langa for the most part of her life, said she used to live in a hostel, infested with rats. She might be a homeowner now, but it took her many years, she said.

“I used to kill rats and keep them in the fridge and the following day take them to the City of Cape Town’s offices and complain about the situation here. Until now, it has not changed,” said Patiwe.

Langa is the oldest black township in Cape Town, 11km south-east of the city centre.

“The township was respected and frequented by mostly elderly men, including my grandfather, who used to work at the docks from the ‘50s to the mid-’80s, staying in the hostels. People used to walk freely and the place was clean.

“But things have changed. It has become a place of filth and crime. In the zones where most people are living, the streets are full of dirt, the drains are overflowing, and there is a strong stench. 

"Residents are complaining about sick children and rats. Between the hostels you find drains leaking a mix of faeces and urine. The crime rate is high. 

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Mounting piles of rubbish around homes have caused rat infestations, residents say they have complained but nothing is being done.

"When you walk the streets you are always warned to be cautious, as you might be the next victim,” added Patiwe.

Father of four, Patrick Mpetsheni, who has been living in one of the hostels for 32 years, has given up hope. In front of his door is a leaking drain and a pile of rubbish. He and his family share a one-room home, a kitchen and toilet, with families who have built shacks outside.

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Nomalinda Ndongeni has been living in Langa since 1960 and looks after eight children in one room.

“In 2011, we had a big fire that came from the shacks and burnt some of the hostels, including this one I am currently staying in. We did not get any assistance from the city regarding our homes,” he said.

City officials were recently in Langa after being invited by community leaders to inspect the appalling conditions, and they mentioned there is a huge project coming that will see the hostels revamped.

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Most shack dwellers do not have bins in which to put their rubbish and they end up throwing it anywhere, resulting in an accumulation of dirt, and drains overflowing with filth.

Mpetsheni, however, did not show any interest in what they were saying, as this was not the first time being visited by officials.

Alicia Khuzani said: “It’s even difficult to open windows here, rats do as they like with our food.”

Ward councillor Samkelo John said: “Most backyarders do not have bins for their rubble and they end up throwing it anywhere.”

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The oldest township in Cape Town, Langa, is one of the dirtiest. The streets are full of overflowing and leaking drains, dirt and discarded plastics.

He also mentioned that the drainage system in Langa is old and a large drain pipe had collapsed. Above the pipe are shacks, which the city needs to move to a piece of land before fixing. John says the city told him it does not currently have land to move those people to.

“I have reported this to the City of Cape Town, the mayor knows about it,” he said.

With elections ended and the new government about to take over, the very same patient Langa residents are hoping for change.

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