Crammed into tiny community hall families fear Covid-19

The residents have no protective gear, and physical distancing is a pipe dream at the overpopulated community hall.
Image: MICHAEL PINYANA

Trapped in a tiny community hall for months with 76 other people, including infants, who were evicted from illegally occupied RDP houses in East London, an unemployed mother of three now fears for their health in the face of the Covid-19 threat.

Amanda Peters is desperate for accommodation so that she and her family can “lead a normal life”.

She said their situation was “very bad” and “unhygienic”, with many of them now “frustrated and living in fear of contracting diseases, especially the coronavirus”.

The group of 76 Buffalo Flats residents have no protective gear, and physical distancing is a pipe dream at the overpopulated community hall.

They sleep just centimetres from one another, including those who are sickly, frail and elderly.

After numerous cries for help, including approaching Buffalo City Metro and several provincial government departments for houses, or at least for food parcels, gloves and masks, they have received no joy from authorities.

Now the group is trying to make their own sanitiser using bleach, dishwashing liquid, water and methylated spirits in a bid to prevent Covid-19 infections in their close-knit community.

“All our pleas for assistance have fallen on deaf ears, despite promises by the municipality.

“We have knocked on many doors, even before the lockdown, but that seems not to produce any positive results and our situation does not get any better, it worsens by the day,” Peters said.

She said some among them were asthmatic, some had “serious heart conditions”, some were pregnant, while others “cough non-stop, leaving many of us in fear of contracting the coronavirus as none of us has been tested, despite our pleas for screening and testing”.

Peters, the mother of a six-month-old baby, a three-year-old and an eleven-year-old daughter, said she had felt compelled to give up her infant and let him stay with a friend’s mother. “I could not continue exposing him to such inhumane and unhygienic conditions at such an early age,” she said.

The 76 people are part of a group of 212 families who were forcefully removed by BCM from RDP houses in East Bank in November 2019.

Some of those families are now in the overcrowded houses of friends and relatives, while those who had nowhere else go to eventually found themselves at the Billy Francis Hall.

After their November eviction the families were given a huge makeshift tent to sleep in until a pastor temporarily accommodated them at his church.

In December they were moved to a local primary school, but when schools opened in January they had to move again, this time to the community hall they now call home.

When a Dispatch team visited the hall on Thursday, toddlers were playing near scattered mattresses on the floor, while other children played card games and some watched television with their parents.

All 76 people were initially sharing and sleeping in the one small hall, but when a group of karatekas stopped practising in a nearby room last week, most of the elderly and unwell people moved into it.

Pensioner Stella Burns, 68, said: “Many of us are sickly and we fear for our health deteriorating, but there is nothing else we can do as we have nowhere to go.

“Most times we have to beg people for food, which we sometimes fight over. There are no healthcare workers that come here to look after us, and now, with this virus, we are losing hope of a better life and health.”

BCM spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya could not be reached by print deadline on Thursday as his phone rang unanswered.

By, Asanda Nini

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