The community of Sonskyn is one of those made up of the people who missed the opportunities offered by the old regime and now feel excluded by the new one. The difference is that, while most such communities are black, some others, like this one, are white. Whether segregation among the poorest of the poor is simply a matter of birds of a feather flocking together or if prospective black inhabitants have been actively discouraged from settling in this community, I cannot say.
The dwellings consist of old caravans, some of which no longer have wheels, a tent or even a few tents hooked together, maybe a wooden Wendy house for those who are really lucky, sometimes only a tarpaulin or two, pegged into the ground and supported in the centre by a tree branch, perhaps a construction with a tin roof and cardboard walls, lined with plastic refuse bags to keep out the damp. In every case the dwellings are just the best their owners are able to provide to keep the winter cold and the summer rains at bay. By modern standards Sonskyn does not look like much, but that does not mean that nothing is happening there and that people are not trying to improve their situation.
Klaas, who has extended his derelict trailer by using an old pup tent as extra roofing, has batteries. If your car will not start, go and see him. His batteries are half the price of what those damned agents want, and most of them work okay. Auntie Lucy has a washing machine someone gave her. You can get your clothes washed and you don’t have to pay the fortune they want at the laundromat which, in any case, is far away, too far if you don’t have a car. And if you are really short of cash, Auntie Lucy will sometimes do it for you on the book.
Gert wanted to collect plastic bottles to trade in, but pulling a wagon full of bottles was too heavy and at seventy-four he’s too old for that sort of thing. And that’s another place the youngsters are taking over, he says. They still have plenty of energy. How can I compete with them? Linda, his spouse, got a job sweeping and washing windows, but it didn’t last long. They said she didn’t work hard enough.
Jansen says it is harvesting time for the potatoes down there by the Combrinck farm and, if he is lucky, maybe he can get in there for a week or so. But the Zimbabweans are the main problem there. They’re so desperate, they work for nothing, some of them, Jansen says. They ruin it for everyone.
Gertruida and Johnny both work long hours as car guards at the shopping centre when they can. They can’t always of course. There are now so many black people wanting to get in, Johnny says, you have to take turns. Sometimes you can only work two or three days a week. There are even people who live in proper houses who want to work as car guards. He complained about them to the shopping centre people, but it didn’t help. If those people can afford to stay in a brick house they shouldn’t be taking our work, Gertruida says. The shopping centre says, “I don’t ask where people live.”
Some of the problems on the other side of the colour divide are surprisingly similar. In the old days, and specially before Covid, we didn’t have white car guards trying to get in, old Phineas Zulu told me. Then you could go anytime. These days, if you don’t come for a few days, some of the management people give your spot to a white guy. Then they make excuses. They say, we had to have somebody and where were you? And it’s the same when Combrinck throws out the bad potatoes, the ones with a hole made by a fork or with a bad patch that will rot. In the old days you never had white people coming for them. Now you do. And some don’t even want them to eat themselves. They take them for their pigs.
Not everyone has the interests at heart of people like those from Sonskyn. During the early days of the Covid lock down, food donations from private people were stopped from entering Sonskyn and the food parcels confiscated by people who said they were government agents. The people who donated the food were told that all donations must be distributed through the government. Private donors are not permitted to decide who gets their offerings. The day after the food was seized a news team shot a video of a food truck from which the parcels were being sold in a nearby township.