Joburg's 'forgotten community' of Newclare living on the cusp

14 August 2020 - 08:00
Shannon Lerenzo, 12, saw his friend die.
Shannon Lerenzo, 12, saw his friend die.
Image: ALON SKUY

They call themselves “the forgotten community”. They live in the poorest areas of Newclare, Johannesburg, and often carry and repeat those words among themselves - and to anyone who will listen.

The words are spoken when attending funerals for the latest gang killing, when standing in 100m-long queues and, for some, when begging for money to support their families.

The forgotten community.

Local pastor Emeleo du Plessis spoke those words again on Friday last week as 11-year-old Osvaldo Minegen was lowered into a grave at the busy West Park Cemetery. 

The boy’s friend, Shannon Lerenzo, 12, used his hands to push the red earth onto the small coffin. Red dust on his face parted for the tears which streamed down his cheeks.

Friends and family pay their respects to 11-year-old Osvaldo Minegen on Friday, August 7, outside his home in Newclare.
Friends and family pay their respects to 11-year-old Osvaldo Minegen on Friday, August 7, outside his home in Newclare.
Image: ALON SKUY

Lerenzo saw his friend die. He was allegedly hit by a speeding white sedan as he crossed the road near the flats where both boys live. Lerenzo and his friends say they went to a local boxing gym after 5pm on July 31, but it was closed. They had turned back for home when Minegen was struck. 

Social workers in the area, however, say the boys were out begging for money, a claim vehemently denied by the friends.

In the area, both stories are believable.

Minegen lived with his mother, two siblings and two aunts in a one-bedroom bottom-floor flat surrounded by similar flats. The door to his home has a hole big enough for an intruder to walk through - but there is nothing to steal. The ground outside is strewn with waste and sewage.

Friends and family help bury Osvaldo Minegen, 11, at the West Park Cemetery in Johannesburg on Friday, August 7. Minegen was struck and killed by a car on the last day of July.
Friends and family help bury Osvaldo Minegen, 11, at the West Park Cemetery in Johannesburg on Friday, August 7. Minegen was struck and killed by a car on the last day of July.
Image: ALON SKUY

Most dwellings in the neighbourhood do not have electricity or potable water and aside from piece-jobs, few have income other than from grants. But the biggest problem is gang warfare and drugs. 

Said pastor Du Plessis: “This community is forgotten and marginalised. The apartheid government was evil - but for the coloured community this government is even worse.

“Unemployment is rife and the drug lords in the area use the people. They take advantage of the situation by buying families food parcels to keep them quiet. 

“It’s been worse here after Covid and the people are desperate. There are churches and NGOs feeding and helping the people but the need is just too big. We know the government won’t help, so we need to take ownership and do something to uplift our community.

“This week I attended another funeral for a gang related shooting. He was the twentieth child in recent months killed at the flats in an area called Disneyland. These kids are fighting a battle, they don’t even know when it started, it’s been generational.”

A family member is overcome with grief at the funeral of Osvaldo Minegen. His mother Shantell Minegen (with blue sleeves) looks on.
A family member is overcome with grief at the funeral of Osvaldo Minegen. His mother Shantell Minegen (with blue sleeves) looks on.
Image: ALON SKUY

A day after the burial, the open space between the flats had been transformed from a place of mourning to a place of celebration. 

The Spiritual Chords Trust Sustainable Business Projects used the space to plant trees and to hand out food and essential supplies to residents. And most exciting for the children - sweets and presents.

Safeeyah Moosa from Spiritual Chords said their plan for the community was to teach families to grow and sell their own foods. She said what the community lacked was the ability to visualise a prosperous future for themselves which stemmed from their environment.

“It starts with this open space. We told the community if they clean the space we would plant fruit and nut trees for them. So we have given them 25 trees. Our plan is to use the space for a childhood development centre. We will also help them create food tunnels. The deal is if the space is kept litter free for two weeks we plant two more trees, with the goal being 1,000 nourishing trees.”

The Spiritual Chords Trust Sustainable Business Projects used the space to plant food-bearing trees and to hand out food and essential supplies to residents of the flats at Newclare.
The Spiritual Chords Trust Sustainable Business Projects used the space to plant food-bearing trees and to hand out food and essential supplies to residents of the flats at Newclare.
Image: ALON SKUY

Shantell Minegen, Osvaldo’s mother, attended the event. For her the loss of her child meant the end of her hopes to leave the flats. 

“He was very sweet and quiet. He was really good at school and his dream was to become a flight attendant. He wanted to fly away and take his family with him. I just miss him - it’s hard losing a child.”

Lerenzo said when he went to his friend after the accident, Osvaldo said to tell his mother that he loved her. 

He had died by the time she arrived at his side.

TimesLIVE

Children play as food and essential supplies are handed to families in Newclare. The Spiritual Chords Trust Sustainable Business Projects also planted trees in the space between the flats on Saturday, August 8.
Children play as food and essential supplies are handed to families in Newclare. The Spiritual Chords Trust Sustainable Business Projects also planted trees in the space between the flats on Saturday, August 8.
Image: ALON SKUY

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