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Manzi, Thando  () Our shared struggle for survival. The Mercury (Eye on Civiln Society) 2014: -.

Poor South Africans and Brazilians share enormous hardship

WHEN I was 6 years old, I returned home from school to find out that my best friend had died from electrocution.

I did not understand why people from my community would illegally connect electricity to their households. I hated the fact that he died from someone else’s carelessness as he walked near a stream over which electricity lines were laid into the Cato Crest shack settlement.

But as I grew older, I understood why people engaged in illegal connections and in memory of him, I decided to become an activist.

I grew up in Cato Manor under the care of my grandmother. During my high-school days, I would walk along Rick Turner Road up to my school in Glenmore and, from the heights next to UKZN, I’d see a distinct array of different housing settings ranging from formal houses to the government-subsidised (privately constructed) “RDP” houses to “tin towns” and shacks.

I would question why some government houses were single-room structures while others were double rooms. A recent study, which involved greening 30 RDP houses before the Durban COP17 climate summit, showed that an average of 5.6 people lived per house.

I have only slept once in an informal settlement, which was home to many of my childhood friends. The government then provided tin huts in “transit camps”. These tin towns are infamous structures and are often termed lindela, meaning “to wait”.

People have been waiting inside the tin towns while more houses are being built. Waking up for school on winter days was always difficult for me. But seeing other children emerging from the tin towns would sadden me because the houses were, in fact, just small-sized tin rooms. They would become extremely hot in summer and very cold in winter.

These tin houses are smaller than 20m2 each, meaning adults have to share their spaces with children. The government proposed that residents would live there for no more than 18 months, but many people have been living in these camps for over eight years and, as a result, the government began providing prepaid electricity for the tin homes.

I would leave my community every day to travel up Rick Turner Road to a former whites-only Roman Catholic school, leaving most Cato Manor residents behind.

But the awareness that I risked losing touch with them spurred me to engage in community struggles at a very young age. I began fighting for a united African society because Cato Manor is also a home for immigrants from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Angola, the DRC and Malawi.

Just weeks before the World Cup of 2014, I was invited to take part in an anti-Fifa activism tour in Brazil, educating Brazilians on the injustices caused by Sepp Blatter here in 2010, and participating in anti-Fifa dialogues and protests.

I was already aware of the beauty of Brazil from watching adverts on television promoting the World Cup. I was given an opportunity to experience a different world yet with countless similarities to my country, which me made feel at home. I remember vividly encountering the first favela – hillside slum – on a sunny day in Sao Paulo.

It felt like home and I was surprised to see that poor South Africans and Brazilians share enormous hardship. Our struggle in Cato Manor is similar to the struggles of those in Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and other places.

This month, I return to Sao Paolo for the United Front meeting of more than 1 000 labour dissidents and communities. I know that there is great relevance for our situation.

Thando Manzi Manzi is a 22-year-old civil society activist in Durban.

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