Hostel of horrors in umlazi
‘The most unhygienic part is that we use the bathroom sinks to prepare our food’
‘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.