‘Hand sanitisers are a luxury’

2020-03-24 14:30
Jika Joe informal settlement resident Thuleleni Mthethwa with her grandchild Bandile (2). Mthethwa and other residents said they feared it would not take long for the whole informal settlement to be wiped out should one person contract the virus. (Moeketsi Mamane)

Jika Joe informal settlement resident Thuleleni Mthethwa with her grandchild Bandile (2). Mthethwa and other residents said they feared it would not take long for the whole informal settlement to be wiped out should one person contract the virus. (Moeketsi Mamane)

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While many people in the country are doing everything to evade Covid-19, it is business as usual for the people of Jika Joe informal settlement and those living on the streets of Pietermaritzburg.

With limited water provision, and no hygiene control, these residents told The Witness that while they were at a higher risk of contracting the virus, no one cared about their livelihoods.

“We are the bottom of the food chain and no one really cares,” said Jika Joe resident Thuleleni Mthethwa.

To get water in Jika Joe informal settlement, Mthethwa has to dispatch her two grandchildren to push a wheelbarrow stacked with 25-litre containers to the handful of taps in the area.

The 58-year-old domestic worker, who has temporarily stopped working amid fears of Covid-19, sits in her yard with a neighbour, discussing their fears of the virus.

Her grandchildren, Melusi (15) and Londeka (17) peer curiously from the family’s dark, cramped shack.

Pointing to her swollen feet, she tells of her struggles to get water.

“I’m very worried about the coronavirus with this water situation we face here. Sometimes there is no water for days. I’m scared that with this virus we will be infecting each other, and I’m worried for my grandchildren.”

Sighing, she gestures to the bleak conditions in the settlement, adding that there were only four communal taps for over 1 000 people living in the settlement.

“You see how we live here. Everything is dirty. We don’t even have toilets and have to use pit latrines.”

A group of men huddled in a circle and sharing a bottle of beer said while they had heard about the virus, there was little they could do to avoid contracting it.

“Most people here don’t have proper jobs. We are poor and living hand to mouth. Hand sanitisers are a luxury. The priority is buying bread to make sure you don’t go to bed hungry,” said Sibonelo Mchunu.

“The odds are really against us here. From the sewage spillage to the lack of resources to buy masks and sanitisers.

“... I swear if one person catches it, that is if they haven’t already, it will be the end of all of us.”

The men feared it would not take long for the whole informal settlement to be wiped out should one person contract the virus.

“Our general fear is that the domestic workers can contract this virus from their employers who always travel abroad. We are becoming so scared of the virus but there’s no way you can practise social distancing here.”

Another resident, Ismael Hassan, said, “I’m trusting God to protect me. Although we’re scared … life goes on. We can’t stay locked in our rooms. We have to work.”

Meanwhile, whoonga smoking vagrants told The Witness that they had more to worry about than Covid-19.

Ngcebo Khumalo, one of the vagrants who sleeps along Langalibalele Street, said while he has heard about the virus, he had little information on how one contracts it.

“I’ve seen people wearing masks and disposable gloves, but I don’t know how it spreads,” he said.

When he was advised by a journalist that he needed to regularly and thoroughly wash his hands with soap and water, Khumalo let out a giggle.

“Most people on the street don’t bath. Some only twice a week. Where will we get water to frequently wash our hands when we are struggling as it is?” he said.

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