Scene 3: Beginnings of Turmoil


After a short time talking to a woman named Sheila, a group of five students plus Anneline walked around the settlement with the hopes of meeting community members. First we approached a woman standing outside her house who immediately brightened up, eager to speak. Four of the students stayed with this woman, while the fifth student (Charles) and Anneline continued touring the settlement.

After a brief walk, the group of two came upon a woman standing outside her shack. She was no more than five feet tall, thin and wiry. She had no muscle to speak of and her hair and face were bleached and leathered from a life of manual labor. She stood outside soaking clothes in a wash basin.

Upon seeing us approach, her eyes rose, her hands dropped, and she came to greet us.

Cast of Characters

WPI Project Team Member: Charles
City Employee: Anneline Plaaitjies
7de Laan Resident: Josephine


The 7de Laan informal settlement, at Josephine’s structure


How did I get here? I’m not from here, I don’t know these people; I can’t even speak their language.

As her words flew by, panic began to set in – the throbbing of one’s chest, the heightened sense of hearing, that nervous shake we all know so well.

What is she trying to tell me? Am I making a bad first impression? Does she know I didn’t understand her?

Despite her petite physique, at this moment she was one of the most commanding women we had ever met. She appeared to follow no one but herself and spoke with great conviction about her situation within the settlement.

Josephine, the woman we talked with

Josephine Boltman

As she continued speaking, her voice sped up, approaching the conclusion of her monologue.

“She was saying she would be more than happy to talk to you. She would prefer to answer in Afrikaans, since her English is not well….” Anneline translated.

The mysterious woman identified herself as a community leader by the name of Josephine. Despite her position in the community, her life story was indistinguishable from the rest – she had lived in other places prior to living in her present shack. Like so many, she found herself on the outskirts of society due to unforeseen circumstances.

She was not just a leader but a mother. She wanted the best for her children – food, water, housing, and an education from an early age.

Upon mentioning her eldest child about to enter primary school, she seemed to switch gears.  Rather than talk about herself, she immediately shifted the conversation to her neighbor.

“She just got out of jail. She’s a drug dealer”

And just like that, the cracks of discord began to emerge on the glass menagerie that was the settlement.

The discussion that followed was unhindered by the language barrier. She was a mother of two, formerly of four. The two that remained were 4 and 7 years old. She had not chosen to live here, rather the council had made her move to 7de Laan from another settlement. The interaction followed its steady course – she discussed her family, her house, her history, and the problems she saw in the settlement. The conversation then shifted to education.

She admitted she wanted her children to go to go to the crèche and following that attend the primary school across the street. When asked about the other children in the settlement she admitted all but one household – two kids – did attend school.

She then made a gesture indicated it was the neighbor in the center of the settlement who three members of our team were now talking to. The seemingly false impression that the settlement was a cohesive close-knit community began to disappear.


This experience was significant for three reasons. First, it demonstrated that we are capable of communicating with people in small groups and dealing with language barriers, without losing focus or content. This sets a precedent of creating smaller groups for further interviews for this project, helpful for performing an enumeration of the settlement. Secondly, it introduces a new aspect of the project – that of the issue of drugs both within the community and from outside the community. Moving forward, we will need to examine this issue further and determine an appropriate course of action. Finally, prior to this interview, no community members expressed issues or conflict with other community members. This demonstrates a breakthrough in the trust between the community and ourselves – people were comfortable enough to begin to lower their barriers they put up to us – outsiders to the community. This also enables us to generate a more accurate approach to our understanding of the community as a dynamic entity.