Living in Bridgebottomville

Under the old bridge next to the honoured Mandela Bridge, on the way out of town, where cars, buses, taxis and motorbikes all drive fast and furious, always in a hurry to somewhere, live the people of Bridgebottomville. To proud to stay in Shanty’s, the make-shift zinc homes, they chose the underside of the old bridge to make their home. “It’s close to town”, they say, and close to food too with so many people around, their pockets always ripe for the picking, their hearts to soft for a beggar child and its mother.

With only one street, Jacob Zuma Street, named after their beloved President, the 25 community members live in 4 abandoned, run-down used to be factory shops, sharing 1 Tap and 2 toilets. Everything for them is in walking distance.

The Zunga’s live in the green one room used to be Bunny-chow shop. They are father George, a factory worker, mothers Thandie and Suzan, their four small children all under the age of 6 and Sizwe, 12 years old whose mother died years back, who’s going to be a doctor and cure all the people with AIDS. With only two beds and 2 mattresses, and affordable plastic bowls and cups, everything is shared. Mr Zunga refuses to be a beggar and dreams of one day owing a house in Sandton with a big garden.

The blue used to be Game shop houses Gogo Nono and her 3 daughters, all pregnant with 6 children between them already. A widow for 15 years now, her husband having died of TB, Gogo prays daily for her children, while selling fruit at the taxi rank to feed the little ones. Her girls get child support but she knows they all have AIDS and that one day soon she’ll have to be a new mother all over again. Nevertheless she still believes that God will save her out of this hell hole she now calls home.

The Cleva Mzwai’s are the gang members who live in the orange house and wreak fear in the hearts of all. They steak and fight, causing trouble everywhere, but with Lucas as their leader, they always stay out of jail. Their two room home houses five of them but on weekend’s women from all over can be seen and heard coming from their place.

Nice Time Shabeen is the red 3 room old butcher shop that serves as money laundering house, slash disco. Sis Lindiwe and her “husband” Chiefs Morabie, own it. During the weekends many people come and the small abode overflows with people and money exchanges many hands for many “favours”. They make most of their money with Bridgebottomville’s girls and the surrounding areas. “Poverty makes you do funny things” she says but she has no regrets at all.

Life is hard at Bridgebottomville but they survive. With Wits giving out bread every morning to the homeless and the religious centres providing lunch and supper: with the odd jobs around plus cheap schooling around for the children, they all dream of winning the Lotto and finding Prince Charming with his 1 Series. There is many more South African like them, many more people worldwide living in their own “Bridgebottomville”, and many times we fail to notice them because we’re so wrapped up in ourselves and our issues. They don’t need our pity or our stuff. They only need hope and know that someone cares and believes in them. To understand that their not lazy and that this life they didn’t plan. Things just happen. So the next time you drive over the “bridge” take a look outside for the people of Bridgebottomville.

Written by Jacqueline Friedman

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