‘I don’t know about this corona thing’: it’s life as usual in hostels
Unhygienic and overcrowded conditions paint a grim Covid-19 picture – but do the people have any choice?
For the Ngubane family, living in the notorious Glebelands Hostel in Umlazi, south of Durban, social distancing does not apply, with good reason.
At least 15 family members, spanning three generations, are housed in a two-bedroom unit in the dilapidated complex. Their sense of dignity is impinged upon by having to share a shower and toilet with two other families, unhygienic surroundings and constant water cuts.
Peaks of rubbish tower along the roadside as skips, filled to the brim with refuse, go uncollected.
Manono Ngubane, 33, said the municipality had failed to provide them with hand sanitisers or soap with which to wash their hands.
“I had to buy my own,” she said.
This despite the eThekwini municipality saying it would provide hand sanitisers to the 10 residential hostels in the city.
A visit by Times Select to Glebelands on Thursday coincided with that of eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda.
Mayoral spokesperson Mluleki Mntungwa said the reason for Kaunda’s visit was to resolve the issue of hand sanitisers.
“Hand sanitisers are still being issued. Teams were being dispersed throughout the hostel to give out sanitisers. Refuse is collected twice a week by teams from Durban Solid Waste. The skips get full quickly because of the amount people in the hostel,” he said.
Scores of municipal workers could be seen scrambling about, collecting refuse scattered throughout the hostel, while a hefty contingent of police and soldiers patrolled the precinct.
But residents said this was a rare occurrence, with soldiers rarely present.
For most, it was business as usual.
Children played soccer and laughed, while older residents hovered about.
Cebo Inkosi, 15, the son of Ngubane’s late sister, had just started high school at Hamilton Makhanya Secondary School in Umbumbulu, south of Durban.
He said while he missed school and his friends, he was enjoying being able to play and watch TV all day.
“We do things so we don’t get bored. When I’m tired of watching TV I come outside and play with my friends.”
Inkosi said while he was aware of the dangers of Covid-19, he didn’t want to miss out on playing with his friends outside.
But for 31-year-old Philani Magqabe the lockdown is not all fun and games.
Sitting on a grass patch, next to the small spaza shop he runs, Magqabe donned a face mask and meticulously washed dishes and containers he uses for storing water.
“This virus scares me. I’m washing while I can because I don’t know when the water will be cut again.”
He said he was uncertain about the future because business was slow.
“A lot of the people from the hostel have gone back to their villages because of this virus. They are scared,” he said.
There was a different picture at Thokoza Women’s Hostel in Durban’s CBD.
Despite the establishment, which houses women and children, being cleaner, social distancing was ignored.
Children in the main quad played soccer without parental supervision.
Sylvia Jiyane, 70, who struggles to walk after breaking her leg, said she didn’t know what to make of the virus.
“I don’t know about this corona thing. I just sit here in my room and time goes on,” she said.
Mntungwa said a directive had been issued by the mayor that there were to be no water cuts during lockdown.
“If there are challenges people must bring them to our attention as a matter of urgency,” he said.