Johannesburg - As you walk past the old Ice Cream Building below New Junction Mall in the Joburg inner city, a ransacked building in ruins stands out.

Known as the “Ice Cream Place” because for 30 years it was where ice cream was made and sold in Johannesburg, today it towers over a broken building that houses many destitute families.

As we walk in, we can hear children playing. Our photographer, Itumeleng English, asks, “Where could the children be playing?” At first glance, it may look like an abandoned building with no life, but unbeknown to you, it is a buzzing community forgotten by freedom.

In seconds, there are dozens of men and women around us. They had heard that Johannesburg Central Church’s Reverend Ndumiso Ncombo and the ward councillor Sihle Nguse were bringing food parcels. There are about 20 homes there, made of plastic and board, with a slight smell of paraffin and not a single toilet in sight.

It is a community forgotten by the council and the government of the day. A black bakkie arrives, and there are smiles from the people; they immediately form a line, each of them hailing the councillor as they would a brother.

Ncombo greets the hopefuls with a short sermon on love, crisp and sharp: “uJesu usifikele namhlanje” (“Jesus has come today”), a man with a deep Zulu accent professes.

“I am happy to see you again. I continue to try all I can so that you may get toilets,” he says. “The premier has made it possible for many of you to get jobs; please work hard at those jobs. It is an opportunity that may not come again. What we bring you is small, but they are gifts from the heart.”

“So where do you go to the bathroom?” I ask. “We go to the mall. At night we use a plastic bag and we throw it away in the morning. We are used to using old papers and plastic bags; it’s the only way here.”

Reverend Ncombo’s message seems to resonate with all. A woman leans towards me and says, “I don’t have an ID; who must I speak to?”

I feel kind of guilty for returning to my home after this experience. For the first time, running water and a basic toilet seem like such a blessing.

Reverend Ncombo’s heart is felt through his sermon: “God loves you; you must tell yourself that your life doesn’t end here. It doesn’t end today; you will leave this life for a better one if you believe and work. Whatever you do, do it with all your heart and do it well. This morning, we just decided to buy some basics for you as a show of our love.”

My grandmother was Methodist, and since Ncombo is a Methodist priest, the event moves me. I take that story with me, thinking I will write a piece about the forgotten people of the Ice Cream Place. I still will. I will contact the Human Rights Commission and take issue with the Johannesburg Council.

Why do our people have to suffer like this?

I wish there could be more people like Reverent Ncombo. I wish Johannesburg had more councillors like Sihle. I was challenged to do more every day. And to be a journalist for social good. I hope those in power will read this.

The Star

2023-06-07T09:15:32Z dg43tfdfdgfd