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Putting a Face to the Problem of Poverty

Updated on October 27, 2017
No rubbish removal in Informal settlements
No rubbish removal in Informal settlements
Gompo Informal Settlement in East London
Gompo Informal Settlement in East London

From Rural Tribal to Urban-A new industrial revolution?

A paragraph in James M Henslin’s text book on Sociology caught my attention. He describes what happened in the Industrial Revolution. as follows:”Masses of people were thrown off the lands that their ancestors had farmed as tenants for centuries. Having become homeless these landless peasants moved to the cities. There they faced the choice of stealing, starving or working for wages barely sufficient to sustain life.”

In Africa, Asia and South America the huge squatter (Informal) settlements that have developed around cities have developed because people have moved away from their tribal areas to seek a better life. Some have had to move because of inter tribal wars, others because of population increase due to better health services, others because of displacement due to governmental policies, and some because they simply want to provide a better future for their children.

Let me introduce you to Susan. Susan has moved to East London on the East Coast of South Africa from the rural tribal area of Peddie some 100 km away. In Peddie she and her children lived in a village that is ruled by tribal law but also falls under the law of the Republic of South Africa. There is a Primary and SecondarySchool near her village and unfortunately the education that she had received and her children were now receiving was not as good as she wanted. So she packed up and moved with her three children to Gompo in East London. Here she managed to find a small area of land in an informal settlement and after paying the fee to the local committee (self elected landlords) she managed to build a small two roomed house out of basic material collected at the rubbish dump or bought from local suppliers.

Her house can best be described as a shack but in comparison to the hut that she stayed in in Peddie it is not that bad. Her children now attend schools in the nearby Parkside area where lessons are taught in Afrikaans and English rather than in Xhosa. I first met Susan when she attended the Adult Literacy classes that I was teaching in the area. She is a bright and warm person and we managed to find her employment where she works as a washer, cleaner and general help for a good family on the going salary for that work in this area. This is enough to pay the school fees for her children and live reasonably comfortably, if very simply. Unfortunately with unemployment running at over 50% in South Africa her story is better than most who make the journey from Rural Tribal to Urban Informal. Perhaps her children will complete their schooling and find work in the South African where at present the economy is growing, albeit slowly.

So in South Africa as in many places in the world the haves and haves not live in the same cities. Recent visits to the drought stricken rural areas in Swaziland, Mozambique and South Africa showed that people living in those rural areas are facing desperate situations. With a dependence on water from rivers that have often dried up the people are often literally starving to death. So the movement to cities will continue and in fact increase.

The question then arises, what can the haves do to help those who have nothing, and are often battling to survive and so are driven to begging or stealing? The problem seems so large and desperate that it is beyond solution. Specially when those in power seem to be more interested in lining their own pockets that developing economic possibilities and opportunities for the economic disadvantaged

Many are helping here and there but as humans we often seem more interested in our own comfort and security that caring about others. Perhaps if every person who can be considered to be a 'have' can finds a person who is an obvious 'have not', and then helps that person to establish some kind of sustainable income program, it would make a dent, if only a small one on the problem.

Isn’t it interesting that in some ways history is repeating it’s self in the developing countries today as it happened in the developed countries many years ago. The problem however is the huge scale. In cities like Mexico City, Calcutta, Cape Town and Addis Ababa millions live in informal settlements, with little or no hope of a better future!


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    • dmop profile image


      7 years ago from Cambridge City, IN

      What saddens me is there are plenty of resources for every person on this planet to live comfortably if it weren't for those who have far more than their share and those who waste more than they use. Good article, voted up and useful.


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