frasers. out of sight, out of mind

Hidden beyond the urban edge, the forgotten children of Frasers are living in extreme poverty, with no access to clean running water, electricity or basic sanitation.

I came to know about Frasers three years ago around Christmas time through my 73-year-old dear friend Lisa Fromsdorf when she asked me to bring food parcels and toys to a community in the neighbourhood.

Internationally acclaimed award winning photographer, feature journalist and content creator, Leticia Cox, shares her experience of her trips to Frasers, a poverty stricken community, caught in limbo between Tongaat and Ballito. 

As we drove off the R102 between Tongaat and Ballito, just moments from where I live, we came into big sugarcane fields, went over some train tracks and into what I thought was a war zone movie set. 

The smell hit me first, crawling under my skin to the back of my neck. Then a horrifying sight of endless piled-up rubbish, human waste and unattended young children playing among it all -everywhere I looked. I could not believe that there was even possible that a place like Frasers could exist.

I remember coughing and gagging due to the smell, being speechless and looking at my friend Lisa, who did not say much, but her looks back at me told me enough. “I’m sorry I did not warn you; I just wanted you to see for yourself first,” Lisa said finally.

“How is this even possible?” I asked Lisa in disbelieve of what I was seeing.

“It’s a big problem everywhere in South Africa, my dear, and in the world,” she said. “More than half of the world’s population live in cities, and millions are living in slums like this one.

I stopped the car, and I went out, but Lisa stayed inside. Immediately people from inside the crumbling corrugated iron shacks started to come out and approach my car. I remember not feeling afraid but somewhat numb and in a state of shock and disbelieve. I opened the boot of my car and took out food parcels and toys, and gave them out. Many women came to hug me, and the little ones came close and snugged onto my legs.

I quickly realised I did not have enough. I felt useless. 

“People think I’m lazy, that I don’t want to work,” said Sibbo, a Frasers’s resident who came to me just as we were leaving. “Thank you, thank you, lady, for helping us,” Sibbo kept repeating. “They think because we live here, that we are not good. I’m sad about people. I am sad about not having a choice and that no one will give me a job or a chance.”

All I could see was a polite, friendly Bob Marley hairstyle young man. I could feel his pain, and my heart was aching for him.

“We are living in a very broken society, “I said to Lisa. “How many Sibbos are out here?”

“The majority of the people living in Frasers are unemployed and uneducated,” said Lisa. “But worse than that, people in and around Ballito don’t care, and there isn’t enough support to help this community.”

What happened to everyone having the right to adequate housing? Why can’t this peri-urban informal settlement of more than 6,000 dwellers be connected to a sewer network? All these different questions keep popping into my head.

Lisa and I went to see Melvyn, the local Frasers’s resident who leads and communicates with the local councillors and NGOs in the area. Melvyn, a middle-aged Indian man, welcomed us and took us for a walk while we talked. He also seems to know Lisa quite well. 

Melvyn showed us an even more terrifying picture of the situation at Frasers. “The water crisis has been ongoing for many years,” said Melvyn. “A few years back, someone donated a few ‘JoJo tanks’, but those are long-time ago not functional or broken due to the weather conditions.”

“Have you told the municipality about the situation?” I asked.

“We asked the local councillors all the time for help, but we don’t get any responses and now the community is desperate,” said Melvyn.

“We are also dealing with major safety and health risk here, Melvyn carried on telling us. “For years, not once have the ever-growing piles of waste been collected. Some residents burn large piles of garbage which exposes them to the inhalation of toxic fumes and makes them sick.”

“There is also the constant issue of illegal dumping, from people living outside the settlement who drive through to get rid of their garbage, which only aggravates the problem,” said a very frustrated Melvyn.

Melvyn also told us that this environment poses a significant threat to the health and safety of children. The neglected community and poor sanitation contribute to the higher spread of infections, diseases, injuries, and the proliferation of mental disorders, including depression and stress. “Children are dying from diseases that could be easily cured and be treated if they had access to local medical aid, “said Melvyn.

Lisa and I said our goodbyes to Melvyn and left Frasers. Neither of us talked much on the way back home.

Once at home, I could still have a vivid memory of the smell of the waste. I had flashed images of the forgotten children of Frasers -my stomach turned. I took a shower crying but felt privileged that I had never gone without running water. That evening I made some calls to find out more about Frasers.

Not all hope is lost at Frasers.

Through some local NGOs, volunteers like Lisa and other residents, I found out that food parcels are being distributed to families at Frasers whenever available. There is always an acute shortage, and many are left without any food, but it’s better than no food at all.

Hlengiwe Banda

At the beginning of the Covid19 lockdown, 28-year-old community hero Hlengiwe Banda started cooking for the elderly, single mothers and their children in her area.

“I start cooking at eight o’clock every morning in my campfire kitchen,” said Hlengiwwe. “I feed porridge to the children and the elderly first. Then prepare meals for everyone by lunchtime.”

Hlengiwwe has two young children, and like many single mothers in South Africa, she knows too well how challenging it is to fend for the well-being of her children and herself.

The Covid-19 pandemic lockdown had significant implications for the local children’s nutrition. School closures meant that many children lost the opportunity to have even one healthy meal a day.

 Hlengiwe’s soup kitchen provides daily warm meals such as rice dishes, curries, soups and stews. The monthly donations from His Way Outreach, the Sai Baba Foundation and the local IPSS provide Hlengiwe with the food essentials she needs to feed her community throughout these uncertain and challenging times.

Hlengiwe also coaches her community netball team, called ‘Dream Team’, a mixed group of boys and girls, ages 12-18 years. Every month, the team play matches against other local communities.

“Not only do these youngsters get a good workout, but it also helps them to stay away from drugs and alcohol abuse, and it helps prevent teenage pregnancies,” said Hlengiwe.

 

A few months after the world got hit with the Covid-19 and all the chaos, my friend Lisa died from three brain tumours. It went very fast, and she didn’t suffer much. A few days before she lost all conciseness, she asked me if I’d been to Frasers. Lisa never had children. She loved children and wanted to know if help was still coming to the community, especially for the children. Lisa didn’t want them to be forgotten.

I believe Lisa took me to Frasers for a reason. Although I never promised her I would take on her project to help this community, Today I found myself regularly checking on the children of Frasers in the loving memory of my dear friend Lisa.

Awareness is the key to a better and more humane society. Because Lisa introduced me to a devastating reality of a forgotten community and its children, I am now able to help and make others aware of a place called Frasers.