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Warm hand for informal settlements

The IDC handed out welcome warm blankets and hot meals to residents of three informal settlements in Pietermaritzburg, proving that they were not forgotten.

Residents of three informal settlements in Pietermaritzburg were smiling on Wednesday, when the Industrial Development Corporation’s corporate social investment programme stopped by with winter blankets and a tasty, hot meal.

The older members of the communities of Ash Road, Nhlanganweni and Alice were the lucky, chosen recipients of soft, super-sized winter blankets, which brought not only smiles, but also drew the happy sounds of celebratory ululating from some. As the handing out of blankets began, men, women and children gathered around keenly but quietly, waiting to hear their names called, before happily moving forward to receive the welcome gifts.

With an average late evening and early morning winter temperature in Pietermaritzburg of around 4 degrees centigrade, the weather at this time of the year is more than fresh. It’s cold. In many ways, these communities are forgotten. They remain informal settlements, even though it is 20 years since they began to take shape.

Most of the families that have lived in them for a long time arrived as refugees from the political violence that plagued some areas of KwaZulu-Natal just before South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994. Through the following decades, the informal settlements have remained, but have grown. Jobs are scarce, but hope for a better life and a strong community spirit exist.

Hope for work

Some residents have been helped to move elsewhere, but many choose to stay because there are factories nearby and if casual labour is required, they are available to work. These are not lazy people; they are constantly looking for opportunities and dreaming up initiatives, hoping for someone with insight to come along and help them launch and drive their ideas.

Being informal settlements means there is no permanent housing. Rather, there are temporary houses or mud huts.

Electricity is in short supply, the removal of refuse is intermittent and many toilets require maintenance. There are many unemployed people. But because of this, they help one another. If a family has food, they share with those who do not because one day they might be without, which is when they will be assisted.

Many people make money by scouring rubbish dumps, finding newspaper, cardboard, tins and newspapers, which they recycle. This might be an underprivileged community, but they understand recycling and the effects of refuse on the environment.

Money for much-needed items such as good, warm winter blankets is in short supply, but thankfully for these communities, help was on hand on this day from the Industrial Development Corporation.

The key focuses of the IDC’s corporate social investment are education, sustainable livelihoods and special interventions. Wednesday’s support fell into the latter category.

Make a difference

The corporate social investment programmes take place throughout the year. Many instances of support are not big, flashy matters and draw only a handful of media types, but they make a difference and they provide hope and a reminder for communities such as Ash Road, Nhlanganweni and Alice that they are not forgotten, that someone somewhere, in this case IDC has remembered them and wanted to make a difference in their lives.

Tuck shop owner Khumbulani Gamede, 31, said the temporary housing in Nhlanganweni was hot in summer and cold in winter. The blankets, he said, would help the older members of the community.

Cindy Ngubane, 30, is one of six health workers who serve and live in the community. She said those who lived there were thankful for any and all help they received. “We are very happy to receive this help,” she said, “but we hope that this connection continues.”

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