South Africa’s Poverty Among White People

Attie De Vos
Booysens, Pretoria
“Ek het geval [I have fallen].”
After completing his national service, De Vos was employed on the railways as a boilermaker, eventually securing himself a permanent job with the Pretoria City Council. “I even bought my own house.”
Then, when employment equity was introduced, he says he was forced into voluntary retrenchment. “I lost my house, and then my [previous] marriage was gone. I started selling vegetables off my bakkie to survive.” He has since lost the bakkie as he fell further. Now De Vos works as a smous (hawker), making firelighters of his own invention — a secret formula of petrol, styrofoam and plastic that even burns in water — which he sells for R20 a bottle, working seven days a week. His skin is baked to copper from his time on the road. “Living in the tent, every time I come from work, it’s like I’m on holiday,” he laughs. But he doesn’t make enough to properly feed his family.

 

Artist Dean Hutton is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this social documentary photography. From his project ‘I Have Fallen‘. To see Dean’s body of work click on any image.

 

I am a businessman. Gerhard Vermaak, Danville “I’m not poor; if you’re poor you don’t do anything … I am a businessman; I rent the shacks for R40, the caravan for R100, sell chickens for R20, and sell stuff for recycling.” On average, it takes three months to collect a decent amount of trash of each category, from which he can earn about R300 each. “It depends on my luck; sometimes it can take six months to get enough to sell.”

I am a businessman
Gerhard Vermaak, Danville
“I’m not poor; if you’re poor you don’t do anything … I am a businessman; I rent the shacks for R40, the caravan for R100, sell chickens for R20, and sell stuff for recycling.”
On average, it takes three months to collect a decent amount of trash of each category, from which he can earn about R300 each. “It depends on my luck; sometimes it can take six months to get enough to sell.”

 

Using scrap metal, wood and a few precious tarps and cardboard, Gerhard “Satan” Vermaak has constructed what we are familiar with in poor black areas, mkukhus. Under a clump of blue gum trees in the middle of Danville, he has built his own squatter camp. He lives with his wife Helen, his step-daughter, a white couple renting a caravan and three black families to whom he rents shacks. Surrounding the shacks are decaying sofas and piles of rubbish. The only thing distinguishing it from a dumpsite is that the rubbish is sorted: cardboard, plastic, glass and metal

Using scrap metal, wood and a few precious tarps and cardboard, Gerhard “Satan” Vermaak has constructed what we are familiar with in poor black areas, mkukhus. Under a clump of blue gum trees in the middle of Danville, he has built his own squatter camp. He lives with his wife Helen, his step-daughter, a white couple renting a caravan and three black families to whom he rents shacks. Surrounding the shacks are decaying sofas and piles of rubbish. The only thing distinguishing it from a dumpsite is that the rubbish is sorted: cardboard, plastic, glass and metal

 

At night Gerhard Vermaak heads off along the dark road in search of valuable refuse. His most fertile gathering ground is the OK Bazaars in the centre of Danville. Arriving at 7pm, he waits until closing time at 8.30pm to start sorting out the boxes and plastics, ripping off staples and stickers, folding them into smaller piles. Later he will sweep the parking lot and bin area. The well-to-do OK owners respect the work he is doing: “No one is allowed to call him Satan here. He does a good job.” They pay him with a loaf or two of bread and a frozen braai pack of meat.

At night Gerhard Vermaak heads off along the dark road in search of valuable refuse.
His most fertile gathering ground is the OK Bazaars in the centre of Danville. Arriving at 7pm, he waits until closing time at 8.30pm to start sorting out the boxes and plastics, ripping off staples and stickers, folding them into smaller piles. Later he will sweep the parking lot and bin area. The well-to-do OK owners respect the work he is doing: “No one is allowed to call him Satan here. He does a good job.” They pay him with a loaf or two of bread and a frozen braai pack of meat.

 

This project looks for answers to the questions: What is poverty? And what is its relationship to race?
White poverty is not new, or specific to South Africa. Yet perceptions of who can or cannot be poor (or rich) persist in the mind of many of her citizens.
In a country where the gap between rich and poor is ever-increasing, poverty in South Africa no longer has an exclusively black face. More and more white people are joining the ranks of the poor on a daily basis. Poverty is becoming less of a racial issue and more of a South African problem.
Having been deprived of some of their privilege, job reservation, and extensive state support, the white poor are now seeking ways to adapt or at least survive.

 

Hannes Schoeman lives in a tiny corrugated –iron and cement hovel in Lochvaal Emfuleni, a white squatter camp in Vanderbijlpark

Hannes Schoeman lives in a tiny corrugated –iron and cement hovel in Lochvaal Emfuleni, a white squatter camp in Vanderbijlpark

 

Louis Beens, retrenched ISCOR fitter & turner, Vanderbijlpark “A potentially harmful working class would become more manageable if integrated with the white middle class, and turned into a productive labor force,” says Annika Teppo. Nationalists provided poor whites with jobs through job reservation and ensured that no skilled blacks could advance ahead of them, protected their unions, provided welfare support, housing schemes and social grants. Since the dawn of democracy however, liberalization and privatization of the economy ended their predominance of the state and parastatal industries. Guaranteed jobs before, many of these workers never supplemented their training by studying at trade colleges to get certification. Now having to compete in a globalised world, they are severely vulnerable to job losses.

Louis Beens, retrenched ISCOR fitter & turner, Vanderbijlpark
“A potentially harmful working class would become more manageable if integrated with the white middle class, and turned into a productive labor force,” says Annika Teppo.
Nationalists provided poor whites with jobs through job reservation and ensured that no skilled blacks could advance ahead of them, protected their unions, provided welfare support, housing schemes and social grants.
Since the dawn of democracy however, liberalization and privatization of the economy ended their predominance of the state and parastatal industries. Guaranteed jobs before, many of these workers never supplemented their training by studying at trade colleges to get certification. Now having to compete in a globalised world, they are severely vulnerable to job losses.

 

My Own Boss. Gerhard Vermaak, Danville Vermaak used to work as a bricklayer. But, “without papers I can’t get work, and if I do get something, they won’t pay me properly — less than R1 000 a month — and then still work you like a slave … I’d rather do this. I’m my own boss.”

My Own Boss
Gerhard Vermaak, Danville
Vermaak used to work as a bricklayer. But, “without papers I can’t get work, and if I do get something, they won’t pay me properly — less than R1 000 a month — and then still work you like a slave … I’d rather do this. I’m my own boss.”

 

Frikkie Botha. Booysens, Pretoria “I live here because my father and mother are suffering. They only sell the Rapport and mother gets disability pension for epilepsy. They can’t look after me.” Botha left remedial school at 16: “I got bored … and wanted to help my parents make money.” So he worked pushing trolleys at the nearby Quagga shopping centre, then as a news paper vendor. He also periodically gets a “proper” job, but can’t keep it.

Frikkie Botha
Booysens, Pretoria
“I live here because my father and mother are suffering. They only sell the Rapport and mother gets disability pension for epilepsy. They can’t look after me.”
Botha left remedial school at 16: “I got bored … and wanted to help my parents make money.” So he worked pushing trolleys at the nearby Quagga shopping centre, then as a news paper vendor. He also periodically gets a “proper” job, but can’t keep it.

 

Dogville. Sonskuin Hoekie, Pretoria. Rosa Cooper and Cornelia Terblanche, a couple, live in a tiny wooden shack at Sonskuin Hoekie. Rosa was employed as a blockwoman at a butcher shop but lost her sight when she developed cataracts. Now almost completely blind she cannot afford to travel to Johannesburg General Hospital to undergo a R70 operation. She says the same surgery in Pretoria would cost nearly R2 000.

Dogville
Sonskuin Hoekie, Pretoria
Rosa Cooper and Cornelia Terblanche, a couple, live in a tiny wooden shack at Sonskuin Hoekie.
Rosa was employed as a blockwoman at a butcher shop but lost her sight when she developed cataracts. Now almost completely blind she cannot afford to travel to Johannesburg General Hospital to undergo a R70 operation. She says the same surgery in Pretoria would cost nearly R2 000.

 

The Rich's, Jan Hofmeyer. The Rich’s: Wessel, Miempie, Aletta and baby, Tina and Petronella.

The Rich’s, Jan Hofmeyer
The Rich’s: Wessel, Miempie, Aletta and baby, Tina and Petronella.

 

See also:

#ZAMAZAMA4LIFE

By Dean Hutton

 


Back to HOME PAGE

%d bloggers like this: