Shacking up in town hall

2019-12-02 16:40
ABOVE: Mduduzi Dlamini relaxing on his mattress at the Mooi River Town Hall.BELOW: Men awaiting their turns to cook their meals at the hall’s kitchen.

ABOVE: Mduduzi Dlamini relaxing on his mattress at the Mooi River Town Hall.BELOW: Men awaiting their turns to cook their meals at the hall’s kitchen.

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The Mooi River Town Hall has been home to dozens of former Bruntville Hostel dwellers since April 2015 when the hostel was burned down, and there seem to be no plans for them to move out.

Their mattresses line the floors of the hall where there are only two toilet stalls for men and two for women, with no shower facilities.

The group told The Witness that their pleas for government to build them houses or another hostel have fallen on deaf ears.

However, Mpofana Mayor Xolani Duma disputed this, saying some of them already owned RDP houses in other parts of the province but want to live rent-free at the hall where they do not pay for water and electricity.

Farm worker Nomvula Sithole washing dishes on the floor in the ‘sleeping area’ of the hall. The alternative is to wait for a turn to use the hall’s one kitchen sink,

Spokesperson for the dwellers, Nhlanhla Mhlongo, who had lived in the hostel for more than five years before it burned down, said there had always been political tensions between the dwellers and the residents of the ANC-led Bruntville township. The grudge is said to be more than three decades old and Mhlongo said he was not even sure what started it.

“The community didn’t like us. They were saying we were IFP supporters so we must move to an IFP area but there were many ANC members living with us in the hostel but the community never believed they were truly aligned to the ANC.”

He said the tensions resulted in several violent incidents where the dwellers were allegedly attacked by community members, even with pangas, whenever they were seen around Bruntville.

“We had friends in the township but couldn’t even visit them because we feared for our lives.”

The 2015 death of Lindo Mabuza is said to have fuelled the fury of the township residents as they believed the suspect lived in the hostel.

Mhlongo said this was not true and the suspect was arrested shortly after the incident, however, a community meeting to discuss the hostel was called after the police took him away.

“When the residents left the meeting, they came straight to the hostel and set it on fire. They didn’t care who was inside, they just wanted us gone and they told us so,” he said. Nearly 250 residents were left homeless.

The former Mpofana mayor, Maureen Magubane, allowed the dwellers to move into the hall, but that was meant to be a temporary situation.

Former Bruntville Hostel dweller, Nhlanhla Mhlongo, has been living at the Mooi River Town Hall since 2015 where he sleeps on the floor amongts dozens other men.

Senzo Ngcobo said sometimes their room-mates went to live somewhere else but came back when they struggled to pay rent. He said the more than 200 people living at the hall do not earn much as they are employed as farm workers and security guards. Their salaries are said to average between R1 000 and R2 500.

“There is no privacy here and sometimes people walk into the ‘bathroom’ and want to use the toilet while you are taking a bath. There is nothing you can do when someone has a stomach bug,” he said with a shrug.

Farm worker Nomvula Sithole said she would move if she made enough money to pay rent but she had to send half of her R1 500 salary to her family.

“It’s very hard living here, you can’t even have vistors over because there is nowhere for them to sleep.

“In the mornings, you have to queue to boil one kettle of water and to use the bathroom. In the evenings you have to queue to cook dinner because only one stove can be plugged in at a time otherwise the electricity trips.”

The kitchen only has one sink, which results in some washing their dishes in plastic basins in their sleeping area.

The dwellers said the municipality still hired out the hall for functions and sometimes the dwellers have to stand outside for the duration of the event. They said they did not sleep a wink during evening functions when people played loud music or sang.

They also complained about the condition of the hall, saying Mpofana did not even send someone to fix the toilets when they broke or attend to the leaking pipes and taps.

Duma, who was the councillor for Bruntville before 2016, said Mpofana had tried numerous times to get the dwellers to leave the hall but they took the municipality to court and won. He said in 2017 the Pietermaritzburg high court ruled in their favour saying the municipality must provide them with accommodation with water and electricity while it built them houses.

“Everyone knows that our municipality is not in a good place financially, we can’t even afford to pay Eskom, so we can’t afford to get them accommodation or build new houses for them. But also, the list that they submitted to the court had more than 200 names, and I can tell you now that there were fewer than 30 people living in that hostel when it burned down.”

Duma said Mpofana was losing out on revenue that it used to get from hiring out the hall to the public as its kitchen, bathrooms and supper room were being used by the refugees.

“We used to make more than R5 000 a month from events and during the festive season we could easily double that but now we can’t even hold municipal meetings there. We have to use the country club or the farmers’ hall for even community meetings.”

Men waiting their turn to cook their meals at the hall’s kitchen.

He blamed the IFP for the situation, saying its leadership misled the dwellers into thinking they had rights to demand houses from Mpofana, even though some of them had RDP houses in Estcourt.

IFP provincial secretary Xolani Dube said the party got involved because it believed that the municipality should provide the dwellers with alternative accommodation if it planned on evicting them.


Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  refugee camps
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