Gauteng has been severely affected by freezing weather conditions since a rare snowfall occurred earlier this week. While some people were thrilled about the snow, the less fortunate and homeless people suffered greatly from the extreme cold.

By Mbali Mthembu and Gugulethu Masilela

In a week that began with an unusual snowfall, Gauteng experienced extremely cold weather conditions that posed significant challenges.

In a cold twist, temperatures reached unprecedented lows overnight on Monday, with the mercury plummeting to as low as minus 6 degrees. Certain areas endured even more frigid conditions, enduring temperatures that dropped even further.

While some people enjoyed the snow, those who are homeless, waste pickers and people living in informal settlements experienced the harshness of the cold weather.

This extreme cold hit a Germiston couple, Bianca and Jody Brits, who have been homeless for three years. They make a living by begging for food and money at traffic lights and selling scrap metal and rubbish.  They described the weather as “bone-chilling cold”.

The Brits told The Telegram that they found Monday’s freezing temperatures to be extremely challenging, particularly due to their limited supply of warm clothing to shield themselves from the harsh weather conditions.

“We only managed to set up a fire to keep ourselves warm, but that couldn’t help because the wind kept blowing the fire,” the couple explained.

Sihle Nkomo, who is struggling with substance abuse and dependency, shares the park with the Brits. Nkomo acknowledges the role of drugs and alcohol in his ability to endure the harsh climatic conditions, expressing gratitude towards these substances.

“I have had friends die in the streets from the cold, but there’s nothing I can do about it, and no one wishes to help us.

“So, it can be the most freezing day in the world; I wouldn’t care even though it affects me, but I will continue to pray and wait for time because that’s how life is,” said Nkomo while sleeping on a plastic sheet.

Edwin Ndou, from Makause, an informal settlement in Primrose, said winter was always bad for him and his neighbours.

As he rubbed his hands together, standing outside his shack, shivering, he said, “There is no coldest day for us here; every winter is freezing cold, and our living conditions make it worse because we don’t have electricity to keep warm. We have to wake up early in the cold almost every day to go and queue for water and we should always be vigilant of our lamps and fire because we cannot afford to burn the shacks, we call home.”

Zanele Bhebhe, a waste picker, expressed her dissatisfaction with the extreme cold weather this winter. She said she starts her day very early, at around 2:00 AM, every week to gather waste materials from different locations in Ekurhuleni. Later, on the weekends, she delivers these materials to a recycling facility or scrapyard.

“I’ve gotten ill a few times because of the cold weather, but this is how I support myself and my child, so I must always wear multiple layers of clothing to stay warm.

“However, recently the weather has been terrible; even walking with my trolley is difficult due to the strong winds,” said Bhebhe.

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