Penney Ellis

Documentary photography

Gladys and Petrus made their home under the eucalyptus trees at the edge of the plot, a collection of rooms to house their family.

Early mornings Petrus brought plastic buckets sloshing with warm milk into the kitchen. Dad would make him coffee and jam sandwiches and then administer his insulin before leaving for work.

When he got home in the evenings, Dad strained the day’s milk through muslin cloths and poured it into plastic bottles to sell to local people. Customers returning plastic bottles were given a discount.

One morning Petrus found the gate to the cows’ enclosure broken open, and the cows missing. In the night driven to the far corner of the plot, some had been hamstrung. A panga machete had chopped into their back legs and sliced their tails. Two cows were missing, the earth dark and saturated with their drying blood where they’d been slaughtered next to the road.

After Petrus died, Gladys continued living on the plot with her daughter and son. Then her daughter left to find work and Gladys and her son moved to the informal settlement further down the railway line. They took the materials of their home and recreated it in Smokedown. They felt safer surrounded by people. On the plot they were vulnerable to tsotsies.

Gladys started a small business running a spaza shop in Smokedown. Living in an informal settlement meant she could add her name to the ‘list’ that comes with the government promise of a housing unit some time in the future.