Life under the M2 motorway in Joburg - filth, drugs, hardship and love

19 February 2019 - 16:40 By Nomahlubi Jordaan
Homeless people living under the M2 motorway face eviction.
Homeless people living under the M2 motorway face eviction.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/Sunday Times.

While part of the M2 motorway in Johannesburg will be closed to repair its unstable bridges, scores of homeless people living there in squalid conditions don't want to leave.

A strong stench, rubble, stacked filthy blankets and clothes were evident as TimesLIVE approached an open space under one of the bridges.

There is no privacy in the space they share. Prostitutes ply their trade openly.

Inside a tiny shack wrapped in plastic, a couple - in love - own a single-seater couch.

Nearby bushes serve as toilets.

At around 11am on Tuesday, about 10 men had congregated for a mid-morning nyaope fix. Some were busy packing trolleys, about to leave to hustle for food and nyaope.

"If they [the municipality] chase us away, we will come back to sleep here. They have come here before and burnt our clothes and blankets," said John Maluleke, 37, as he rolled a joint.

Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba announced on Monday that the M2 would be closed on Thursday to allow for bridge rehabilitation to resume.

The Karsene and Selby bridges were closed on the eastern side in 2018 due to damaged stabilising pillars. And now support structures on the western sides of the two bridges have moved. 

Vandalism has also been identified as a factor contributing to the bad state of the M2.

The squalid living conditions of homeless people under the M2 motorway in Johannesburg on Tuesday, February 19 2019.
The squalid living conditions of homeless people under the M2 motorway in Johannesburg on Tuesday, February 19 2019.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/Sunday Times

Times Select reported on Tuesday that along the cordoned-off bridge was evidence of scores of people living within the structures supporting the bridge.

On average 12,000 motorists use the motorway during the peak morning and evening rush.

City of Joburg transport MMC Nonhlanhla Makhuba said vandalism of infrastructure was a challenge throughout the city.

"We have people living within the bridge pillars who use or remove infrastructure to make themselves more comfortable. Some will make fires which heats the concrete ... There are also people who have diverted gutters, which means rainwater is channelled around the beams, eroding the soil and causing instability,” she said.

Maluleke, from Mozambique, came to SA eight years ago and has lived on the streets ever since.

"I was staying with my brother in the CBD but I left when he got married because I did not want to be a burden to them."

Maluleke wakes up everyday to go "hustle". He collects old plastic bottles and cardboard boxes and sells them to make a living. "On a good day I am able to make between R150 and R200."

He spends the money on food, alcohol and nyaope - a drug he uses every morning. "If I don’t smoke, I don’t get to do anything because I’m in pain. It is the most excruciating pain you can ever imagine."

"You see the pain you women feel when you are in labour, it is the same pain we experience when we have not smoked," Sicelo Mavuso interjects.

The men say they have been to rehabilitation centres. "I’ve been to rehab three times already, but the problem is when I go home, I get bored and start smoking again," said Mavuso, who left his Germiston home to live on the streets.

Sam Makhanya, 38, has been living in the streets since 2011 after he lost his job as a carpenter in Brakpan.

"When it rains we use plastic material to cover ourselves. It was tough last week when heavy rainfalls poured, but we always make a plan," Makhanya says.

There is no running water and people living here depend on the street lights for lighting at night.

"We don't bath. We wear the same clothes all the time and sometimes we get lucky that people come drop old clothes," said Makhanya.

"We really have it hard here. This is not the life that anyone would want to live. The only problem is the [drug] addiction. If we can get help in the form of jobs and the rehab, we would all leave this place," Makhanya adds.

Although he was once married and has a seven-year-old son, Makhanya says he does not have a desire for a woman.

"I don’t even get aroused when I see a woman because I don't trust that, that person is free from diseases because we all live here.

"We see prostitutes on a daily basis here. They bring their clients and they have sex with them while we are watching."

Bongiwe [whose real name is being withheld] was performing a sexual act on a client for R30 on the side of the freeway. The client ran away when TimesLIVE approached.

"I came here with my friends from Nkandla. We wanted to make money and we thought we would make a living by being prostitutes," said the 19-year-old from KwaZulu-Natal.

She said sometimes clients refuse to pay her, others have held her at gunpoint and refused to use a condom.

"They robbed me on Sunday and took my money. They almost raped me, but I got saved by a passersby."

Prostitutes ply their trade under the M2 motorway in Johannesburg on Tuesday, February 19 2019.
Prostitutes ply their trade under the M2 motorway in Johannesburg on Tuesday, February 19 2019.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/Sunday Time

She is ready to return home and live a normal life. "I want to go to rehab and stop this business. The money I am making is just not enough," she said.

Naledi Molefe, 20, and Sicelo Mavuso, 26, also live under the bridge. The couple sell cigarettes to pay for nyaope.

"We met here ... I fell in love with her the first time I saw her," said a beaming Mavuso. Molefe remained glued to a small piece of broken mirror, wiping her face and checking if she looked fine.

Mavuso described her as a loving, caring and a supportive woman. "She is everything I have ever wanted in a woman."

The couple have built themselves a makeshift shack, covered with plastic. They also own a single-seater couch which is placed outside the tiny shack, which could only fit in a mattress, a drum filled with lunch boxes and empty cold drink bottles.