Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Middelpos, Saldanha

Feb 2009

Upon entering Middelpos, one of the first things that struck me while walking through the streets, was the apparent ingenuity used in the construction of the homes. An array of discarded materials; old road signs, advertising boards, metal plates, wood and cardboard have been put together to create unique and wonderful shelters. Nothing goes unused. What we usually consider to be of no value is of great essence to the people of Middelpos. Much care has also been put into the maintenance of some of these plots; some are adorned with flowers and little vegetable gardens. Much pride is put into these homes. We often decorate our own homes as a reflection of ourselves and our sense of individualism. This is no different to the people of Middelpos, except that their access to material is considerably limited.

During the day a large portion of the population can be seen walking the streets or sitting inside and outside their homes. This is largely due to the shortage of work in the area. Most people have come to Middelpos, hoping to find work in nearby Saldana, which is home to a number of marine enterprises. Many have come here leaving their families behind. Middelpos is a majority Xhosa speaking community and many originate from the eastern Cape. Those who are able to find work here send much of their earnings back to their families. The problem is however; that many arrive in Saldanha and are unable to find work, becoming further entrenched in a cycle of unemployment. Children can also be seen playing in the streets during school hours, not able to attend because their parents or caretakers are unable to afford school fees (which are very low by middle income standards).

Alternative sources of income are often sought. Little home shops are in abundance, selling basic things, like cool drinks, bread and cigarettes. Rarely is there not more than one of these shops in sight. An entrepreneurial spirit can be seen in the various signs which draw people to the shops: advertising good prices and especially sought after items. One house advertised a soon to be opened 'baby supplies' shop; something the community is surely in of (lots of lovely little babies around!). Other shops also sell things like fruits and vegetables. There are also illegal forms of entrepreneurship.

The standard of living in Middelpos, as with our country in general, is quite unevenly spread. Iraq, an area of Middelpos, given the name because of its ongoing struggle, is considered to be the least well-off area in town. From experience it does indeed seem to be the case. As up to 13 people here have to make use of one toilet and there is little water facilities in the area. The houses here have no electricity and have little to nothing on the inside, save for a wooden bench and a table which holds a gas cooker and some plates and utensils. On the other side of town things are slightly better. Most houses here have electricity; they contain more furniture and in some cases, an electrical stove. Electricity is illegally sourced from the main electricity lines, which means that the use of more than one appliance simultaneously may cause the power to short. The better houses also have televisions, radios and in some cases, a DVD-player. The quality of living is not divided exclusively to the various areas of Middelpos. Adjacent homes, often on the same plot, can vary significantly in standard of living and there are homes with TVs and other appliances in Iraq, although in general there is very little.

It is a strange sight seeing a near empty shack with nothing but a television, a gas cooker and some pots and pans. The presence of expensive items like Radios, TVs and DVD players present a strange paradox. While many live with little to no material possessions, items like Radios, Televisions, DVD and CD players are in relative abundance. We live in a consumer driven world, and most people aspire for better material conditions. In a sense these things represent a measure of success to the people of middelpos.

Strolling through Middelpos, you can often hear loud music emanating from shacks in all directions, different sounds often compete against each other. Various styles of music can be heard from Kwaito, Reggae, Hip hop, to commercial pop music. At one point while strolling through the streets, I recognised the sounds of American rapper, ‘The Notorious B.I.G.’ - who was assassinated in late 1990s – Biggie, as he is affectionately known, rapped about life in the American ghetto (he also rapped about bitches and money).

The majority of people I spoke to feel that the municipality fails to live up to most of its promises. They require only the most basic of services, such as water, sanitation and electricity, yet these are not provided. The clinic which provides medical services is situated on the far side of town and is not easily available. The school is also said to be at an unreasonable distance from where people live. The hospital is also too far away, and in an emergency it takes too long reach it.

Most of us are aware of the hardships people face in our country, but this is rarely seen upfront, instead we see it from a distance, we read about in newspapers, we talk about it, but only from a distantiated, abstract perspective. There is hope in Middelpos, the people seem to have a good understanding of what it is they need to uplift themelves. They cannot however, do it by themselves. They know this and only seek the basic neccesities that is needed to lay the groundwork to allow them to better themselves socially and economically.

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