South Africa: COVID-19 - It's Hard to Practise Hygiene in Unhygienic Conditions, Say Mathambo Residents

Residents of Mathambo informal settlement north of Durban say they are told that hygiene is the most important aspect in the fight against the coronarivus, but there is nothing hygienic about their living conditions.

The population of close to 400 people share four ablution facilities, two for men and two for women.

Area committee member Ndodeni Dengo showed GroundUp some of the toilets in a dire state, with broken doors and leaking taps. He said residents had told the ward councillor and the eThekwini Municipality that the ablution facilities were insufficient. "With the spread of the coronavirus, people can easily get infected, as there are too many of us sharing these facilities, " said Dengo.

He said the cleaners hired by the City lacked cleaning supplies which made it difficult for them to do their jobs.

Resident Thembela Khumalo said the shortage of toilets was reported to the ward councillor to help come up with a solution. "We as residents are also at fault for not caring for these ablution facilities. People use paper instead of toilet paper and that just makes things worse as toilets become clogged," Khumalo said.

Ward 34 councillor Bobby Maharajh told GroundUp that the problem went back to 2013, before he was elected. "There are just not enough toilets and yet people continue to build." He said the City would have to do research about where to place additional toilets. "However, that issue is being addressed."

He complained about overpopulation, saying the area committee should be controlling the influx of people. "I continuously sent the land invasion unit to demolish the shacks that are mushrooming in the area because if it is not controlled it is going to get worse. With the spread of the virus, I fear for their safety," Maharajh said.

A team of City officials visited Mathambo Informal settlement on Tuesday after GroundUp made enquiries about the state of the toilets. Dengo said they left soap, cleaning supplies, toilet paper and uniforms for cleaners and said they would be back to fix whatever needs fixing in the ablution facilities.

According to City spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela, sanitisers were delivered last week. However, Dengo says he has not seen them.

Mayisela blamed residents for the unhygienic state of the toilets, claiming that residents broke into one of the facilities while it was locked in order for the septic tanks to be emptied. "The community broke into one facility after it had been locked for emptying and used it under those conditions which led to an unhygienic situation," Mayisela said.

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