‘We’re living like animals’

2019-05-16 15:36
East Street Men’s Hostel dwellers have complained about the condition of the facility.

East Street Men’s Hostel dwellers have complained about the condition of the facility.

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Residents at Pietermaritzburg’s East Street Men’s Hostel say their complaints about the filth, cramped rooms and the lack of maintenance and security have fallen on deaf ears.

They claim they have been raising these issues with the provincial Department of Human Settlement (DHS) for more than a decade, but only the bathrooms were fixed a few months ago.

While most similar hostels were transferred from the provincial government to municipalities after 1994, the East Street hostel still belongs to DHS.

At least 500 men are estimated to live in the facility and dwellers say no woman has ever “officially” stayed there since it was built many decades ago.

“Some sneak their girlfriends in for a few hours when their room-mates are at work but no woman has ever been allocated a bed here,” said resident Sibonga Mkhize.

The dilapidated red brick buildings are surrounded by piles of litter and overgrown lawns. Long branches hang over pathways while smaller trees shoot from the cracked walls.

Plastic bags, cardboard and even old blankets give the dull buildings some colour as they cover broken windows in every block.

One has to skip over a few puddles of muddied water backing up from blocked drains to get inside some of the buildings.

Inside the cramped rooms are between six and eight single metal beds with thin mattresses, but some accommodate more than 10 people as they take shifts using the beds.

East Street Men’s Hostel resident Seni Sibisi (left) and friend Bhekekhaya Mlotshwa say the place used to be in an ‘immaculate’ condition. 

“Some are sub-letting their beds but there is nothing we can do. Even if they rent their beds to criminals you have to keep quiet and just safeguard your belongings — this is a government facility so we have no say on who comes to stay here,” said one of the residents.

The facility has no kitchens, so occupants have to cook meals in their rooms.

“If someone is working late, they come home after 10 pm and disturb everyone’s sleep as they prepare their dinner and lunch to take to work the following day. You can’t really complain because it’s not their fault that we have no kitchen and our small rooms are shared,” said Songololo Bhengu.

Most of the dwellers work in construction, as car mechanics, welders and other similar jobs. They earn between R3 000 and R6 000 a month — a large portion of which they send to their families back home in different parts of KwaZulu-Natal.

Seni Sibisi and his friend, Bhekekhaya Mlotshwa, like most of the hostel’s residents, have been there for more than 20 years. They said they used to be proud to live in the facility because it was in an “immaculate” condition.

“There was an office by the gate where all the tenants were registered and the security guards would check everyone who walked in.

“You could walk across the yard in the middle of the night without fearing for your life. Now you can’t leave the room after the sun sets because you don’t know who could be waiting for you on the other side of the door,” said Sibisi.

Mlotshwa said each tenant paid monthly rent of R9 until DHS told them to stop in 2006. Like most hostel dwellers who spoke to The Witness on Wednesday, he said they did not mind paying because the funds went towards providing the needed services like maintenance.

The rent was also inclusive of water and electricity.

“When we were paying tenants the government used to send cleaners on a regular basis, grass was also cut and trees were trimmed. They also cleaned the gutters and drains. The refuse was picked up weekly, now we are no different to people living in a dump,” he said.

Bongo Ngubane said if the government upgraded the hostel to a state where it was fit for human occupation and installed prepaid meters, they would happily pay for water and electricity.

He said they were also tired of living like migrant workers during the reign of the apartheid government where several men shared a room.

“We can’t even get our wives and children to visit us because there is no space for them to even sit, never mind sleep.

“Our rooms are so cramped, we sleep with some of the things on our feet because there is nowhere to put them,” he said.

Simo Nxele said he panicked every time one of his room-mates was diagnosed with tuberculosis as it would be easy to contract it because of the conditions they lived in.

“The windows that are not broken cannot be opened. I don’t know whether they were welded together or they were designed that way. Once the door is closed, all the germs are trapped inside,” he said.

Bongizenzo Ndlela, who has been at the East Street Hostel for 12 years, said his biggest concern was their safety.

He said his brother nearly died when he was stabbed in the yard a few years ago. “There are several people who have been attacked here.

“It’s easy for criminals to get in and out without us even noticing them because there is no access control.

“Anyone can come in either through the gate or side entrances,” he said.

He said the vagrants that lived a stone’s throw away from the hostel roamed the facility any time of the day.

He added that they stole their clothes when left to dry outside and broke into the cars belonging to some of the residents.

DHS spokesperson Mbulelo Baloyi said the department was still compiling a report on the issues raised by the hostel’s residents.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  pietermaritzburg hostel

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