Thomas Zwane grew up in an impoverished home in Nquthu, in the Umzinyathi District Municipality in Northern KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).
Like many of his peers in Nquthu, Zwane left his home in search of greener pastures and employment opportunities in Gauteng.
He settled at the Actonville Hostel, where he lives in a shack in front of a block of flats. However, after years of living there, Zwane is one of the many jobless young people in the hostel.
“I need a job. I am a qualified security guard,” he told the Benoni City Times during the City of Ekurhuleni Masisebenzeni Outreach Programme on August 25.
Although jobless, Zwane considers himself lucky that he found himself a place he calls home, even though the condition of the hostel is far from the greener pastures he came to search in Benoni.
A stone’s throw away from his shack is a stream of sewage running down Styx Road. Behind his shack, sewage from a nearby shack has formed a dam.
“Our problems are many, but the one troubling us the most is the blocked sewers. There is faeces all over the place,” he said.
The hostel is one of the many built in the 1950s by the apartheid government for migrant labourers from other provinces.
Twenty-nine years into democracy and after the city turned into family dwellings, the hostel, built in 1953, was old and dilapidated and in need of refurbishment.
The view from Reading Road is one of panel beaters, cars and makeshift hawker stalls, their density partially hiding the entrance to the gigantic dormitory blocks of the hostel.
The structures have cracked and some have caved in. They covered most broken windows with cardboard boxes to block out dust and the cold wind.
The hostel is overpopulated. They have erected shacks around the residential blocks, which have led to illegal electricity connections and overwhelming the infrastructure.
Old and rusty corrugated iron sheets are on top of all the buildings, and they have installed solar geysers in the west wing.
The streets are untarred, except for the main road that leads in and out of the premises.
Laundry hung on makeshift lines strung from building to building while recyclers walked the hostel’s tiny passages looking for material they could recycle for cash.
The communal toilets are not working. There are portable toilets in each of the units.
Stray dogs, rodents and goats scavenge for food on the mountains of litter outside the hostel – this despite the CoE collecting the rubbish every week.
There are no recreational facilities for children. There is a stagnant pool of sewerage in the streets. Residents have even dug their own trenches to divert sewerage away from their living areas.
The CoE’s human settlements department said the lack of services at the hostel was because of no engagements with the residents because the officials fear them, though they have received no threats.
However, there is a glimmer of hope for Zwane and the residents as the municipality promised they would refurbish the hostel.
The CoE executive mayor, Sivuyile Ngodwana, vowed he would ensure the long-promised demolishment and refurbishment of the 70-year-old hostel would be implemented so that they could move the residents to more habitable housing.
Some residents are not convinced. One said, “They were here last year taking photos. Nothing happened. They are here again. They will come back again next year.”
For Zwane though, the refurbishment would be a welcome relief, as long as they improve their living conditions.
“We need reliable services. We cannot continue to live in such appalling conditions.”
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