Built for bachelors who worked in Bulawayo’s Belmont industrial area in the 1950s, the now-derelict and crowded Sidojiwe Hostels are a ticking time bomb for disease outbreaks in the city including the deadly Covid-19.
Sidojiwe which means “we were picked up” in IsiNdebele was named after one of King Lobhengula’s sons just like some residences and bachelors hostels in the city.
Lobhengula was the last Ndebele Monarch.
It is no secret that a single person with an infectious disease can pass it to many people within an hour based on the conditions at the hostels.
With rent pegged at $12 per room and Bulawayo’s housing waiting list topping 100 000, numerous attempts by the Government and city council to decongest the hostels have been futile because as soon as residents are relocated, dozens more move in.
The hostels have been condemned numerous times but people continue occupying them.
With up to 600 residents, each hostel has three floors which are almost always filled with a pall of smoke from wood fires and thick darkness. The floors each have communal cooking areas where residents have no choice but to defy the rule of social distancing daily whenever there is a need to prepare a home-cooked meal.
Although the residents try hard to keep the hostels clean, their efforts are in vain as toilets are also in a dilapidated state with leaking pipes.
A few have functional flushing systems. Burst sewer pipes cause stagnant pools of human waste outside the hostels.
Residents told Chronicle it was impossible to practise social distancing or self-isolation at the hostel and they felt it was a ticking time bomb for a serious Covid-19 outbreak.
“We have enough education when it comes to preventing a Covid-19 outbreak but our children are hard to control. We cannot always keep them indoors since there is not enough space. We also need assistance with protective clothing and a better shopping facility close by because we are depending on a tuck shop,” said Mr Cephas Dhire, a resident.
Mr Cornelius Nyathi, another resident, said the hostel set-up has potential to spread Covid-19 since people use the same entrances and share facilities.
“We are in great danger because we use the same entrance, toilets, bath rooms and cooking areas. The place has a lot of children who play around and some people are still having visitors from all over the country and beyond our borders. We are not safe. We really need help,” said Mr Nyathi.
There has been a lot of talk with no action regarding the movement of residents from the hostels to better homes since the last time when less than half of the residents were moved to Emganwini suburb and council detached the hostels from the city’s budget.
Mr Nyathi spoke of how the city council has neglected them by not including them in their budget since they are not supposed to be residing there yet no solid plans have been made regarding their movement.
“Only 73 residents were moved from here to Emganwini, although we were told that everyone was meant to benefit.
“When we asked them when we are going to get assistance they did not respond.
“Now we have nowhere to go and we have situations where a family of eight people share a room, six grown-up children and their parents sharing the same room,” he said.
Ward 6 Councillor Tawanda Ruzive said the conditions at Sidojiwe were inhumane and if any disease outbreak was to occur, many people could die.
“Sidojiwe has always had problems. It’s a miracle that we are yet to record Covid cases because it would take only one sick person to infect the whole compound.
“Most of those people have underlying health problems. Since they are not working, food is a big problem.
“We try to help here and there but we can only do so much,” he said.
Cllr Ruzive said efforts to move some people from Sidojiwe to other residential areas have been fruitless as more people move in as soon as there is vacant space.
“Council owns the flats and people who move in go through their offices but when you go there people are doing their own thing. At one time council moved people to Emganwini and the moment people were moved another whole lot moved in overnight.
“It’s a very sorry situation and I wish anyone could assist. The best way is to move people and make sure no one moves in because we are sitting on a time bomb as far as I am concerned,” said Cllr Ruzive.
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