Mrs Betty Lenka lived in a house in Sharpeville. But today she is living in her sister’s backyard. On the 16th August the council police came to Mrs Lenka’s house. They chased Mrs Lenka and eleven other families out of their houses.
These people are part of the rent boycott in the Vaal. They have not paid rent for two years.
THE BOYCOTT BEGINS
“In 1984 I heard people talking about a rent boycott,” Mrs Lenka told us. “There were also lots of pamphlets around. The pamphlets said we must not pay our rent because the rents were too high.
“Now I have lost my house. I do not know why they chased us out of our house. Maybe they wanted to show other people that if they do not pay their rents, they will lose their houses too. They wanted to scare other people. But still people are not paying their rents
THE BLACKJACKS COME
“When the council police came; they said I must pay R1032 to get my house back. They took all my furniture. They said I would get it back when I pay all my rent. But I am worried about my furniture. They were very careless with it. When they moved my wardrobe, it broke.
“They were unfriendly to all of us. They treated me like a stranger in my own house. I have been living in that house since 1968.
“All the people who were thrown out of their houses that day came together. We talked about our problem. Then some people went to talk to the Vaal Civic Association – the VCA. The VCA took our case to court. Now we are waiting to hear from the courts.
‘I LEARNT WHAT SUFFER MEANS’
“Now I know what suffering means. When I was still in my house I did not know what suffering is. Now I am living with my sister. But my children are living with other relatives.
“In 1984, I thought the rent boycott would help us. I still think that now. It is very difficult to say how it will help. But I think it will help.
“I hope that the Lekoa councillors will listen to the VCA. If they listen to the VCA then we will pay lower rents. But I cannot pay the money from last year. I want to start paying as from now on.
THE RAMOKONA’S STORY
A few streets away from Mrs Lenka, there is another family who lost their house – the Ramokona’s. We went to visit them too. They are living with their neighbours. They cannot go to their home because the cops are watching the empty houses.
They left their chickens and a dog at their house. So every time the cops look away, they throw food to their animals. Their animals do not understand what has happened. Malafano Ramokoma told us his story.
‘THE BOYCOTT IS GOOD’
“I last paid my rent in 1984, when everyone stopped paying,” said Mr Ramokona. “I did not understand why they said we must stop paying rent. But for me it was a good thing. I used all my rent money to buy my family food and clothes.
“When I first moved into my house in 1960, I paid R10.01 rent. Then the Council started their nonsense. They said they wanted to buy a cable for electricity. So we paid R5.00 more rent. Then another R5.00 to fix the streets. Then R5.00 for sewerage.
“For everything they said R5.00 more. When the boycott started, we told them to stop the R5.00 business. We paid too much rent because of all their R5.00’s.
“My only problem with the rent boycott is that some people started to fight among themselves. Those who paid rent had their houses burnt down.
‘HOME IS HOME’
“On the 13th of August, the police came. They said I had a chance to pay rent.So now they were chasing me out of my house. They took all my furniture out of the house. They also wanted to take our dog with them. They said he is a very beautiful dog.
“Now we are staying with our friends and neighbours here. They are very nice people but home is home. I do not say that home is the best place, no. But I was sick with worry when we lost our house.
“My wish now is to go back to our house. Some people are trying to help us get our house back. I just forget their name. I hope these people can help us” said the old man.
Mr Ramokona’s neighbour spoke to us as we were leaving. She said, that she agreed with Mr Ramokona about the boycott. ‘But she is worried. Now the Lekoa Council is taking her and 1800 other people from the Vaal to court for not paying their rent.
RENT BOYCOTTS – A VELD FIRE
People in the Vaal are not the only people who are boycotting their rents. The rent boycott has spread like a veld fire in South Africa. People in fifty three different townships are not paying rent. So far the government has lost R188 million rands – and every month they lose 40 million rand more.
ALL KINDS OF TRICKS
The councils and the government tried many tricks to break the rent boycotts. For example, in Katlehong, a township on the East Rand, the mayor said if people do not pay their rents, the council is going to turn off their water and electricity.
In Duncan Village, in the Eastern Cape, the council said people who are boycotting rent cannot bury their dead there. “One lady was told to pay R500 before she got a grave for a relative. In the end she just went and buried her relative in Mdantsane,” said the Dun can Village Residents’ Association.
Many people have died in the rent fight. In White City, Soweto, the council police shot and killed more than 26 people. And nearly a hundred people were hurt. They were trying to chase people out of their houses. But people fought back.
THREE MAIN REASONS
The UDF says there are three main reasons for the rent boycott. Firstly, people can’t afford high rents because so many people do not have work. About 4 million people are without work in South Africa.
Secondly, people say the council uses the money from rents to pay the councillors high wages and the “black jacks.” People say they did not choose the councillors – so why must they pay them big wages? With no money the councils cannot work – and without councils, apartheid cannot work.
Thirdly people want the state of emergency to end. And they want the troops out of the townships. You can not live a normal live with the army in your garden.
The unity of the people is strong in many townships. They are well organized. They have street committees and the people are going forward together. They know what they are fighting for – and they know how they will fight for it.
But there are still some townships where people are confused. There is the state of emergency and some people who called the boycott are in jail or in hiding. In some places people are not well organized and they do not know what to do. People do not want to lose their houses. But at the same time they do not want to pay rent.
It is not easy to give people advice when they can maybe lose their houses. All we can say is that these are rough times – and in rough times, it is best if people stand together, strong and organized.
NB. When we went to the printers, people in the following townships were boycotting their rents:
In Transvaal: Mamelodi (Pretoria); Alexandra (Johannesburg); Sharpeville, Boipatong, Bophelong, Evaton, Sebokeng (Vaal); Piet Retief; Soweto; Ratanda (Heidelberg); Tembisa (Kempton Park); Katlehong (Germiston); Vosloorus (Boksburg); Bela Bela (Warmbaths); Carolina; Waterval Boven; Amsterdam; Lydenburg; Duduza (Nigel); Tsakane (Springs); Potgietersrus.
In the Orange Free State: Zamdela; Viljoenskroon; Bothaville; Tumahole (Parys); Refengkgotso (Sasolburg).
In the Cape: Langa (Uitenhage); Kwanobuhle (Uitenhage); New Brighton; Zwide; Kwazakhele (Port Elizabeth); Port Alfred; Alexandria; Lingelihle (Cradock); Duncan Village (East London); Grahamstown; Dukatole (AliwaI North); Burgersdorp; Mdantsane (East London); Mlungisi (Queenstown); Humansdorp; Kenton-on-Sea; Despatch; Steytlerville; Hankey; Huhudi (Vryburg); Zwelethemba (Worcester).
In Natal: Dundee.