Interview with Auntie Marie

Friday, November 14th

As we were talking with Yolanda, Auntie Marie came over and introduced herself. She is one of the co-founders of the re-blocking of Flamingo Crescent. The re-blocking project began three years ago due to a fire from gas and paraffin. After the fire, the City came with “The Disaster Kit” made up of four poles, plastic, and tin roof sheeting. These kits provided enough to create temporary shelter, but Auntie Marie has had to work with the City and other organizations for all the other community’s living conditions improvements.

We began our discussion by talking about the electricity that was coming to the community soon. Right now only a few people have generators that provide electricity. These people use them for lights and some appliances. Most other people rely on candles and paraffin lamps for light and cook outside in a gulley using wood collected from the factories in front of the community. Auntie Marie chooses to cook using gas: “I grew up doing wood. And going to the field to fetch all of it. And when I grew up and I got married I told myself that I am not going to do that any more making a gulley outside and cooking outside and being black hands…. When we were kids my mother used to shout at us everyday for the wood and the pot must shine…. No… I don’t want to do that anymore.” Auntie Marie further explained the difficulty of lighting the coals when it is raining and the resulting amount of smoke; another reason she does not want to cook outside anymore. So she now has two tanks of gas and “when one is finished the other one is full.”

Community members also use the gulleys for heating. According to Auntie Marie, the fumes are a reason some of them die. This is especially the case for those that make the fire inside because it is cold outside. When Auntie Marie was a kid they also took the gulley inside, but only after her mother and father put soil and tin in it to take out the gas. She commented that people do not keep their places safe and clean because they do other things with their money: “They don’t think of their safety.”

Therefore, one of the biggest things she is excited about is the safety the electricity will provide through lights for the community. There are currently only three lights shining into the community, but once the electricity is turned on, they will be able to “see in the dark and who is going where and who are the culprits coming in at night and do all the funny things here [in Flamingo Crescent].”

Additionally, with the lights people will no longer need to use candles or paraffin lamps to light their shacks. She explained how some residents do not know how to put out their candles and just let them burn out, which is dangerous. However, she believes people will learn to put out their lights and look after them closely because they are going to have to pay for the electricity: “Everything that you pay for, you look after dearly.” Further, it is a safer method of lighting around kids.

Auntie Marie is personally most excited about baking herself a cake. “A nice chocolate cake.” She also plans on using the electricity for important things like her fridge and stove. Unlike a housewife who needs all these appliances, she will not usually go for a microwave and “little things like that.” In addition, she plans on keeping her gas tank because she has been using a gas stove all her life now and “you know ESKOM, if they want to have a shutdown it will keep you in the dark.”

Despite this, she is not worried about shutdowns because it is an everyday thing. Especially since she used to live without lights it will not easily affect her. “If the lights go out, then I will have my gas…I will have my candle or I will have my lights with paraffin.” However, she pointed out how some people may be easily affected due to shutdowns if they become quickly accustomed to the electricity. “Everyone is excited because they cannot wait for it to happen [the electricity to be turned on].” Auntie Marie explained the community’s eagerness, specifically what day the electricity is coming, and shared her response to keep watching the City’s work.

The City of Cape Town is installing both the electrical wires and boxes as part of their contributions for the project. This is after a hard, long fight. At first the community fought for electric lights in Flamingo Crescent, however the City did not want to put them up. Instead they put lights up on the street so it shined into the community. Auntie Marie mentioned it was a start for the community and the lights were on, so “that was nice.”

In addition to the electricity wires and boxes, the City of Cape Town has installed the drains and toilets. The one-on-one toilet with taps was another big fight for Flamingo Crescent. During re-blocking, the community members argued to have an individual toilet with a water tap directly outside, or inside for disabled people, each shack.

Finally, the City is also taking a few measures to get the community members started with using the electricity. Auntie Marie explained that some people have never used electricity before because where they come from is just getting electricity now. Therefore, the City, for one, will give everyone an energy bulb that does not take a lot of electricity, “that should be enough for them [the community members].” Two, the City may be providing some free initial units to provide a good start for the people, although it is still unclear in what form. According to Yolanda, when they put the electricity boxes in they are going to give each house 15 units, so they will have a fresh start. However, Auntie Marie thinks that you need to buy electricity each month and on the first of every month they will give you 10 or 20 units free. They will find out soon what the City is providing.

Auntie Marie explained electricity is purchased similar to phone airtime. It is sold in the form of a card at the shops in front of the community, at the bank, or at the post office. On the card is a voucher number that can be punched into the box for electricity. While Auntie Marie did not know how much the electricity would cost her yet, she estimated based on her previous home where her children are staying. “If you buy for R20 and everything you got is electricity that you use, it will only last you two days.” Thus, she plans on buying R200 of electricity on pay day since she is a pension earner so it will keep her until the next pay day. She also mentioned electricity is getting more and more expensive now a days, and you get less units for more money, so it is hard to predict how much it will cost.

We finished our interview with Auntie Marie by talking about how far the community has come since the beginning of re-blocking. She ended by saying “it was a battle of a lifetime” and was so excited to finally see the end with electricity coming to the community.