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Tuesday, 13 August, 2002, 08:21 GMT 09:21 UK
Home improvements in Alexandra
Alexandra township
The local government is trying to upgrade housing
The World Summit is being held near Johannesburg's Alexandra township, which, as Khadija Magardie reports for the BBC's Focus on Africa magazine, is now being rejuvenated.

Alexandra was constructed under apartheid as a "dormitory town" to provide a labour pool for the white city of Johannesburg.

Under the National Party's influx control legislation, black residents of Alexandra would work as cooks, cleaners, domestic workers and gardeners for white Johannesburg by day, and return to the townships by night.

Today, the township, initially meant for a population of 75,000, now an estimated 350,000, is one of the most densely populated and economically depressed places in the country.

Alexandra township
Homes are being marked with an "x" for demolition

Most of its residents are unemployed and poor. Local government services such as water, sanitation and electricity are not functioning properly.

Yet this need not be the case, says Mike Maile, who is one of the driving forces behind the government-spearheaded Alexandra Renewal Project (ARP).

According to Mr Maile, Alexandra's close proximity to Sandton, as well as the industrial area of Wynberg, should make it perfectly placed from an employment point of view.

Yet the township has a 60% unemployment rate.

Upgrade

Oiled by US$130m budget over the next seven years, the project's aim is "to upgrade living conditions and human development within Alexandra".

Josephine Sibakulu lives in a brightly painted house in River Park, one of Alexandra's more developed "extensions".

At the side of the house, a separate vegetable garden grows "morogo" (wild spinach), carrots and onions.

Pointing to the vegetable garden, Sibakulu says proudly; "Now I only need to buy meat and maize meal."

Earlier this year, the pensioner was the winner in a gardening competition held by the ARP for River Park residents.

Today, virtually every house in the area has at least one tree, or a lawn.

The project's organisers also plan to clean up surrounding parks and rivers to create recreational spaces for Alexandra residents.

Resettlement

The renewal plan also aims to reduce Alexandra's population density.

News coverage of the project has been dominated by images of the alleged "forced removals" of Alexandra residents to different localities.

Flooding hit the township two years ago
Residents try to keep their head above water

Every year, the river floods its banks, causing the people who lived in shacks alongside the river to lose their property, and in many cases, their lives.

The ARP began moving people off the banks of the river last year, citing the hazards of a flood plain.

They were resettled in other townships, like Diepsloot.

But those residents earmarked for relocation would not go willingly - the city council had to forcibly remove them.

The ensuing mayhem opened the city council to accusations that it was using apartheid-era tactics to remove people from their homes.

Maile says there have been noticeable benefits from the relocations. Since many of the shacks were removed, the rate of car hijacking in the area has dropped dramatically.

Controversy

But residents of shacks earmarked for relocation are less enthusiastic, indicating that the controversy over relocations is unlikely to die down soon.

The bright X's spray-painted onto the walls of rows of shacks indicate that they too, will face the next round of relocations.

Molatelo Raoleka was one of the group of residents relocated to Diepsloot last year, as part of the ARP programme.

Less than a month later, she was back in Alexandra, and has scathing words for the city council.

"They lied to us, they said they were taking us to our own houses, but when we got there, it was a shack, just like this one," she explained.

"There is nothing in Diepsloot, only sand, there is no electricity, no toilets, they just dumped us there."

She adds: "I won't move, I will fight."

The full version of this article originally appeared in BBC Focus On Africa Magazine.

See also:

11 Nov 99 | Africa
11 Feb 00 | Africa
13 Feb 01 | Africa
11 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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