Just outside Brits, near Pretoria, you will find Oukasie. The houses of Oukasie suit the name – they are old and rusty. But they are homes to the people who live there. And the people of Oukasie are fighting for the right to live there.
The story of Oukasie started in 1935. The government built a few tin shacks for the people who worked at Brits. Since that time the government has not built another house there.
So people built their own houses. And people who did not have money to build houses, built shacks on other people’s plots.
When you go to Oukasie today, you will still think it is 1935. There are no tarred roads. There are no drains for water. There is no electricity and no street lights. And people still use bucket toilets.
What more can we say than, ‘If you’re tired of Oukasie, you’re tired of life’?
LETLHABILE – A LIVING GRAVEYARD?
25 kilometres away the government has built Letlhabile – a new township. LetlHabile has about 175 houses. Each house costs about R4 000.
People who do not have money to buy a house, can get a site. Each site has a tent, a tap and a flush toilet. If you get a site there, you must build a house within two years.
There are no halls or churches in Letlhabile. But there is a graveyard. The graveyard was built before anyone moved there. In fact, 500 graves were dug before there was one person living in Letlhabile.
The government says they did their duty. They gave the people of Oukasie a new place to live. Then, last year, the government said Oukasie was no longer a ‘black township’. And everyone living there must move.
But the people of Oukasie did not want to move to Letlhabile. So they came together. They knew if they wanted to stay in Oukasie, they must be united. So they started the Brits Action Committee (BAC).
People in Oukasie were lucky. Many people living there, knew about organising. Many of them belonged to trade unions like NAAWU (National Automobile and Allied Workers Union) and MAWU (Metal and Allied workers Union). But they also asked people from the Transvaal Rural Action Committe (TRAC) to help them.
The Administration Board in Brits said everyone must move. And they refused to give anyone a house or a site. But the Brits Action Committee fought against this.
MOSHE WINS A HOUSE
In May last year, BAC helped Moshe Mahlaela to take the Administration Board to court. Moshe wanted a house in Oukasie. But the Administration Board said no.
Moshe won his case. But the house that the Administration Board gave him only had one room and no windows. But still, to Moshe, it was a house. And to the people of Oukasie, it was a victory.
Samson Nembahe was the next person to ask for a place. He wanted a site to build a house. “I went to the Administration offices,” Samson said. “But the man at the offices said that all the people in Oukasie were moving to Lethlabile.
“So I went to talk to BAC. One person from BAC came with me to see the superintendent. When we got there, the superintendent changed his story. This time he said he would give me a site. He said I must just tell him where I want it.
“I did not hear from him. So I went to see him again and again. First he said an engineer must check the site. Next he wanted the stand number. Then he wanted to see the plans of my house. Then he asked for my lodger’s permit and my rent receipts.
“But, in the end, with the help of BAC, I won. And the people of Oukasie are helping me to build my house. They know that I am not working so I do not have money. But they are pleased that I won the right to build.”
WORKERS JOIN IN THE FIGHT
BAC did not just help people to fight for houses in Oukasie. They used their trade unions to get their bosses to help them. They told their bosses to ask the government not to move them to Letlhabile. They asked Firestone to stop building a creche in Letlhabile. They said they must rather build the creche in Oukasie.
The bosses in Brits tried to speak to the government – but they had no success. They made a public statement against the forced removal of the people of Brits. They also said they would give money to make Oukasie a better place to live in.
OUKASIE – A SLUM!
Learn and Teach spoke to Marshall Buys – the chairperson of BAC. We asked Marshall why the government wants the people of Oukasie to move.
“The government says that there is not enough land in Oukasie,” Marshall told us. “So Oukasie cannot get any bigger than it is right now. They also say that the Oukasie is a ‘slum’. They said it will cost too much money to make Oukasie a better place.
“But we do not think what the government says is true. Just next to the location there is a big farm. If the government wanted to buy it, they could use that land for Oukasie.
“Some parts of the Oukasie do look like a ‘slum’. But whose fault is that? If the government used the money they spent on Letlhabile, Oukasie would not look like a slum.”
TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT
“But we think the government wants to move the Oukasie because it is very near a white township called Elandsrand. And Letlabile is very near Bophuthatswana. We think that maybe the government plans to give Letlabile to Bophuthatswana. If the government does this, then all the people who belong to trade unions in Brits will have big problems. Bophuthatswana does not allow trade unions from South Africa to work in Bophuthatswana.
We asked Marshall what is happening in Brits now. Marshall said, “The government can say what it likes. We will not move. Right now people in Oukasie are very busy. We are cleaning our township.
“We want to show the government that if they cannot help us, then we will help ourselves. The people of Oukasie are very strong. They built a school and they are fixing the roads.”
‘GA GO NA MO RE YANG’
Everywhere you look in Brits, you see people wearing T-shirts that say, “Ga go mo re yang, re dula go na mo” (We are not going anywhere, we are here to stay).
The message on the T-shirt is loud and clear. Maybe the T-shirts will help the government to hear what the people of Oukasie say.