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This Covid-19 and poor sanitation will kill us

Maria Kgompiri points at a pit latrine she shares with four other families on her land. The informal settlement is not yet approved for housing which means years of waiting for adequate sanitation.

 68-year-old Maria Kgompiri lives in an informal settlement in phase 7 of Mangaung township. She lives alone as her children have moved out to find places of their own.

A widow, she is one out of hundreds of people who have been waiting to get government RDP houses. Like many others her wait has been longer than she anticipated.

Kgompiri is one of the first people who registered to get government RDP houses in 2006. She has moved from one informal settlement to the next in the hope of increasing chances of getting a house. But everywhere she went she found that people complained of delays in the allocation of houses.

Even though she has papers to prove that she registered for a house it has not made much of a difference. For years she has been attending community meetings and frequents the local housing office to check if her turn of getting a house will soon come. But every time she has been turned back.

“They tell us to wait and that our turn will come. But they too do not have all the answers, they say the government knows better. My heart is dismayed because l am now an elderly. If l do not get a house it means my children will also suffer,” she says.

The informal settlements she lives in is a vast one with many shacks. The area has not yet been approved for housing. As some residents have lived there for over ten years, they are beginning to doubt if the area will ever be approved. They do not have water, electricity, or toilets. Kgompiri has to walk a long distance every morning to go and fetch water from a farther section. If she is not fetching water, she goes to look for firewood which she uses for cooking. There is hardly ever time to sit back and rest.

Kgompiri is sharing a piece of land with four other families and they all use one pit toilet.

To residents in the informal settlement COVID-19 is one amongst a plethora of problems. Many do not even see it as a priority to protect themselves as they face many challenges daily. Most do not even wear masks because to them the reality of the disease has not yet settled into their minds. Some say even if they would want to wear masks or sanitize, they would not afford to buy such utilities.

“We have been told about the pandemic that is spreading around. But how can we care about safety when we do not even have houses. Safety starts with having a house. We share toilets and must travel long distances to fetch water. How do we stay safe while living under such conditions? If l had money l would not waste it on products like masks or sanitizers, I would buy myself a house,” she says.

Although she has chronic health conditions she must sacrifice going out and about to try and make her life more comfortable. But comfort is far from the word which describes her current circumstances.

“If there is one thing us South African citizens have become good at, it is waiting. Only God knows when we will get real houses with real toilets. The best that l can do is wait.”



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