About nine destitute families whose houses were washed away when cyclone Eloise hit parts of Mpumalanga earlier this year have been left in a dilapidated school boarding house with no water and electricity for months.
The families, which include 10 children, previously lived in homes near a stream that floods during heavy rains.
They said they and other flood victims were moved to the Thembeka High School hostel by the Mbombela local municipality in January.
But city spokesperson Joseph Ngala said they had moved the families there as a temporary measure and they were told that they would have to go back to their homes when the rains stopped.
The department of social development, on the other hand, said as far as they knew the families had rebuilt and moved back to their homes.
The families told Sowetan this week that they were desperate as they had no money to rebuild their homes in KaNyamazane, outside Mbombela.
The families are occupying five hostel rooms, some of which do not have handles on the doors while others cannot be locked. They use objects to secure the doors.
“At first they [social development] used to give us food but now they have stopped. Recently, we had them visiting us to talk about alternative places to stay but since then they haven’t come back. Here, we have problems of safety, there are no lights, no running [water] and also the gate doesn’t lock, which means anyone can get it any time and we can’t do anything,” said Lydia Ndlovu.
“We thought this was temporary as government was planning move us to a better and safe place but we see that our cries are falling on deaf ears and we have turned into refugees in our own country. When I walk down the road and see where my old house was, I cry.”
Ndlovu, 23, lives with her brother. They are both unemployed.
Lidia Ndlovu who stays at the Thembeka high school and she says they are in need at help. Mandla Khoza
Portia Thusi, 21, who lives with her brother, said she recently acquired a certificate in information technology and was now pinning her hopes on getting a job so that they could find a place to rent.
“We lost our parents when I was five years old. This left my brother and I as orphans and social workers moved us from the place our parents were renting and we went to stay in cottages [at] Thandulwazi Primary School. We lived there for 14 years.
“Due to the fact that I was a student and getting NSFAS [National Student Financial Aid Scheme funding], I was able to pay the R500 they demanded for rent but when they raised the rent to R1,500 last year we moved and built a shack next to the stream. During the floods we were then moved here. We do not have a home and we had hoped the government would help us. Now we find ourselves cramped here with other families like us,” said Thusi. She said her brother was also unemployed.
Happy Nzimande, 32, who lives with her husband and two children, aged three and seven, told Sowetan that they had been living in hell since their house was washed away.
“During the rain we lost everything. Our house was demolished by the rain and we escaped by the grace of God but I thought life was going to be normal but it is not. We live like pigs. My children are my biggest concern. My husband is doing odd jobs, which don’t pay much and I am unemployed. Sometimes we have nothing to eat.
“We are asking for help from anyone because we hoped the Mpumalanga government was going to help us but instead they stopped even giving us food. We live on donations. Each night is a struggle because we sometimes see men outside our windows and fear that they may kill or rape us,” said Nzimande.
Grace Manyika, 58, said she had a chronic illness and not having food made it hard for her to take her medication on some days.
Sowetan visited her at noon.
“As we speak I have to take my pills but I rather not because I haven’t eaten anything for the day. That is dangerous, it can kill me. I don’t know if I have to die here to please my government,” said Manyika.
Social development spokesperson Centie Ngubane denied that the department had moved the families to the hostel and said it was local councillors that did so.
“The matter regarding the people that were displaced following cyclone Eloise in KaNyamazane was brought to the attention of the department by the City of Mbombela municipality on February 8 this year. The department provided social relief of distress to 23 households with 128 members identified to be affected by heavy rains and at risk as they were located in flood lines.
“The Mbombela municipality had already moved the people to Thembeka High School and social workers were dispatched because it became evident that the households involved desperately needed assistance in the form of cooked meals. The meals included a breakfast pack, lunch and dinner. These meals were provided for from the first week of February to 21 February and further to that the department also provided psychosocial assessments.”
He said after a couple of days of receiving support from social workers, it became clear that the families were already returning to their houses and only returning to the centre (Thembeka High) for registration during meal times.
Ngubane said the department stopped providing food as there were more people who were not part of the group of flood victims who were now coming to collect food.
Ngala said after the floods they went back and told the families that they would have to go back to their homes, hence only 19 people remained at the hostel.
“We also guided them on applying for an RDP house if they don’t have any place to go but you know people,” said Ngala.