Hos­tel of hor­rors in um­lazi

‘The most un­hy­gienic part is that we use the bath­room sinks to pre­pare our food’

Sunday Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - NOKUTHULA NTULI

‘OUR liv­ing con­di­tions are worse than those of an­i­mals but we have nowhere to go. This is our home.”

These were the words of Bhek­i­sisa Sokhele, res­i­dent and com­mu­nity leader at the Um­lazi Lodge, com­monly known as the Te­huis Hos­tel in um­lazi, owned by Transnet.

Te­huis is a stone’s throw from the no­to­ri­ous Gle­be­lands Hos­tel, but is more peace­ful and rarely makes head­lines. How­ever, its res­i­dents say the con­di­tions they live un­der are worse than those of most hos­tels.

Sokhele, who has lived in the 35-year-old hos­tel for more than two decades, said its con­di­tion kept get­ting worse due to lack of main­te­nance.

The home to about 6 000 res­i­dents, in­clud­ing women and chil­dren was pre­vi­ously a men’s-only hos­tel and ac­com­mo­dated im­mi­grant work­ers em­ployed by Transnet at the time.

“Be­fore 1994 our wives couldn’t even visit and if you were caught sneak­ing a woman in, the se­cu­rity guards would spank you and you wouldn’t be able to sit prop­erly for days,” re­called com­mit­tee mem­ber Zwe Khany­isa.

At least four of the build­ings have grass and plants grow­ing on the walls, and most bath­rooms have sewage and wa­ter run­ning on the floor from blocked sinks and toi­lets and leak­ing pipes.

“Each bed costs R100 monthly, but some­times you find eight peo­ple liv­ing there be­cause some live as fam­i­lies even though there are only four beds in each room, which means each room col­lects R400 rent, which is paid to Transnet,” Sokhele said.

Most build­ings have stairs with­out rail­ings and some res­i­dents have fallen and bro­ken limbs.

Each floor of the 15-block hos­tel has about 80 res­i­dents who share the com­mu­nal bath­room, which in­cludes four stalls with cis­terns, six sink basins and four shower stalls with no doors or cur­tains.

“The most un­hy­gienic part is that we use the bath­room sinks to pre­pare our food and wash the dishes, be­cause none of the rooms have sink basins. So you might be drain­ing a pot of rice on the sink and some­one else is re­liev­ing them­selves in a toi­let stall less than two me­tres away,” Sokhele said.

The build­ing that used to be a com­mu­nal kitchen was sold more than a decade ago and is cur­rently a hard­ware store.

“Pre­vi­ously, peo­ple were not al­lowed to cook in their rooms, so there was no space pro­vided for kitchen sinks, stoves or cup­boards to store gro­ceries and fridges.

“We’ve been back and forth plead­ing with Transnet to make pro­vi­sions for these, be­cause pre­par­ing food in the bath­room is not ac­cept­able, health and moral wise, but as you can see, noth­ing has been done,” Sokhele added.

Some women who live in the hos­tel told the Sun­day Tri­bune how they had to share the bath­rooms with men.

“There are no shower doors or cur­tains so a per­son who comes in to use the sink or toi­let has a full view of the shower, which makes bath time a very un­com­fort­able ex­pe­ri­ence, be­cause some­times men walk into the bath­room while women are show­er­ing and vice-a-versa,” said Khany­isile Mncwane.

She said it was worse when some­one had di­ar­rhoea be­cause they would some­times have to go two floors up or down for a work­ing toi­let.

“It’s a reg­u­lar thing to find toi­lets blocked. Right now our floor has had toi­lets blocked for more than a week. Some­times Transnet sends peo­ple to fix the plumb­ing, other times it re­mains like that un­til it un­blocks by it­self,” said Akhona Memela.

Room-mates Thuthukani Ndlovu and De­lani Mkhungo said the morn­ing queue to use the show­ers was a con­stant re­minder of the “op­pres­sion” they lived un­der.

“Some­times you are in the queue for more than 20 min­utes and when you fi­nally get your turn you can’t even shower prop­erly be­cause it would in­con­ve­nience ev­ery­one.

“I’m not even go­ing to go into the em­bar­rass­ment of women walk­ing into neigh­bour­ing stalls while you are busy with your business,” said Mkhungo.

Phumla Sikhosane, a res­i­dent at Te­huis for 20 years, said she has never seen any main­te­nance work be­ing done. She is one of the res­i­dents who has to live with leak­ing roofs, and must use pots and buck­ets to col­lect wa­ter when it rains.

Most res­i­dents want Transnet to sell or give the hos­tel to the ethek­wini Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, as they be­lieve this would im­prove their liv­ing con­di­tions.

“There are many govern­ment ser­vices other hos­tels have ac­cess to – like the fam­ily units across the road at Gle­be­lands – but Te­huis is more like a pri­vate prop­erty and ev­ery­thing has to go through Transnet,” said Khany­isa.

Transnet spokesman Mo­lat­wane Likhethe did not re­spond to ques­tions on the pro­posal to hand over the hos­tel to ethek­wini. How­ever, he said the com­pany main­tained the struc­ture, in­clud­ing plumb­ing, grounds, clean­ing of com­mon areas and elec­tri­cal main­te­nance.

“Main­te­nance is con­ducted on a weekly ba­sis or when there is a need. For clean­ing and grass-cut­ting, Transnet has en­gaged the ser­vices of a co-op­er­a­tive owned by ten­ants as part of its en­ter­prise and sup­plier devel­op­ment pro­gramme,” he said, adding the rent col­lected was used for the up­keep.

Likhethe said Transnet’s ver­i­fi­ca­tion pro­cesses showed not all res­i­dents were le­gal ten­ants, which put pres­sure on the fa­cil­i­ties, but the com­pany was work­ing with rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties to re­solve the is­sue.

Te­huis res­i­dent De­lani Mkhungo clean­ing his sec­tion of the room which he shares with four oth­ers. Flooded floors are a com­mon sight in the bath­rooms at Te­huis Hos­tel.

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