Confined Lacey Road residents want change in their lives

Electricity cables at Lacey Road informal settlement in Durban.

A STATE of confinement or captivity, is what comes up when you search for the definition of prison. The residents of Lacey Road, an informal settlement sandwiched between Sydenham and Overport, find themselves in a state of confinement without a sentencing from a Judge or an officer of the law having whisked them away to their prison cell.

Minus an attorney or lawyer at their side, Lacey Road residents fight for their right of dignity.

The settlement, which was established in 1995 with only two shacks today is home to about 550 to 700 people. According to the last count done in early 2015 there were 181 recognized housing structures (excluding extensions). The shacks are built on private property, owned by the provincial government and zoned educational 1 on the North Central scheme. With no pathways or roadways, access to the settlement is limited and poses a problem for ambulances and taxis.

The land upon which the shacks are built is waterlogged and sewage water flows freely between the houses forming channels, posing a serious health risk to residents. Majority of the residents are unemployed and live a compound-like lifestyle and refer to those living in the neighboring Sydenham and Overport as outsiders. I asked one of the many unemployed youth to describe what life was like at the settlement.

“Life inside here is very difficult, we struggle with basic things that people on the outside don't stress about. Some people are even scared to come visit you because you stay here, but the ones that do its because they can smoke or drink whatever they want without the police harassing you. Everyone who stays here doesn't like it, but because of circumstances, we find ourselves here. My priority now is to get closer to God and I believe that will help me to stay away from all the wrong things we do here. I was born in 1993 but sometimes feel like I am older than I am because of the hardships that I and many of my friends are faced with. I want a job, it doesn't matter what kind of job as long as I have a source of income,” said the youth who only identified himself as Junior.

Echoing Juniors' statement is Linda, who says despite the difficulties that come with living in an informal settlement and the inhumane conditions at Lacey Road, the place is very safe and crime free.

“Criminals know very well that if they are found here, they have to deal with mob justice. We don't play with criminals here. People here respect that law and everyone knows everyone. There are challenges that face us, as the youth more especially alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and unemployment, but despite all of that, life here is nice,” he said.

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