Munsieville’s white squatters: “We are beggars and poor, but still human”

Jacob Jovner (71) and his wife Angeline Jovner (67) live in a squatter camp in Munsieville, South Africa known as Pongo Camp.

MUNSIEVILLE — “Yes we are beggars!”

So confessed a teary eyed pensioner Jacob Jovner (71) who live with his wife Angeline Jovner (67) in a squatter camp in a black township in Munsieville which is informally dubbed Pongo Camp.

They are part of more than 12 million people, of which three million are children, who live in extreme poverty in South Africa, a country with a total population of over 49 million people.

Altogether 313 people of different racial backgrounds live at this squatter camp which includes 92 children and 22 elderly persons.

Most of the people here live on social grants that are being provided by the South African government, with some living below the food poverty line earning less than R20 per day meaning they cannot afford food that meets a minimum calorie intake as defined by Statistics South Africa.

Jacob begs at traffic lights as the amount of pension money he and his wife receive per month (R1 500) is just not making month end.

“I used to be a farmer in Zimbabwe [a neighbouring country of South Africa] where I produced among other tobacco and corn. I fled to South Africa with my wife and children in 1980 when [current Zimbabwean President] Robert Mugabe seized white farmers’ land. I have been on pension since 1994 and have been roaming ever since.”

He broke out in tears when he told DigitNews that he is a beggar who begs on the street as the government is not doing enough to provide for the elderly.

“We got to be beggars. My wife and I do not drink at all and we do not use drugs. What we do with the money is we buy food. We also ask people to appreciate us, even if we are poor, we are also just human.”

He and his wife live in a two-bedroom shack with his children and grandchildren. He said he is doing what he can to fix his shack indicating that he would like to extend it.

Marius Cosmo (55) another resident said he has no care in the world what people’s thoughts are of them living in a squatter camp.

“We do have our struggles and we are hungry but the only thing I worry about is the children and the older people, I don’t worry about myself as I can care for myself.”

He said that white and black people live in harmony in a black township after living at Coronation Park. Mogale City Local Municipality won a court order in 2014 to evict them as to make way for a R24 million re-development.

About 62 shacks have been built until RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) Houses can be built.

Irene van Niekerk, Pongo Camp coordinator said that she has been looking after the people at the camp for about three years.

“In total I have been looking after the people for about 12 years now. We are no longer getting the much-needed support from the community [as we used to] to feed the people. I don’t care if they are white or black, it is a child. You must feed a child and you must feed the old people as they can’t feed themselves.”

  • South Africa is known for its rocky Apartheid past where people were segregated and classified according to their skin colour. Apartheid was abolished in 1994 when Nelson Mandela was voted in as the first democratically elected black President of the country under the leadership of the ANC (African National Congress) political party.