Geslina Langeni, 93, lives alone in a seventh-floor flat in Sydenham and has no-way to collect her Sassa grant. She relies on the goodwill of neighbours. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad (ANA)
Geslina Langeni, 93, lives alone in a seventh-floor flat in Sydenham and has no-way to collect her Sassa grant. She relies on the goodwill of neighbours. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad (ANA)

Woman, 93, penniless and alone in flat since February

By Duncan Guy Time of article published May 23, 2020

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Durban - A 93-year-old woman has sat alone, penniless and in squalor in her Sydenham Heights flat since the start of the lockdown and a neighbour’s efforts to get the Department of Social Development to place her into a frail care facility have been in vain.

“Every time I go in, they speak to me as if I have done something wrong,” said Shireen Tifflin, who has been feeding Geslina Langeni since February.

She said she had asked the department to accommodate Langeni in an old-age home.

“She needs frail care.”

Since level 4 lockdown was introduced, a social worker had made moves to have her accommodated, first at a facility in Glenwood and later in Inanda, but strike action by care-givers halted the plan.

“Now they need to cut the red tape,” said Tifflin.

Langeni’s flat, which is in the seventh storey of a nine-storey block, is dark, dingy and dirty. Cardboard and plastic fill the place of glass that has disappeared from the windows. The furniture is damaged. A fridge with its door ripped off has been reduced to being a cupboard.

Two items stand out as little rays of sunshine in the squalor: a television set and her wedding picture.

“My husband, David, bought this flat,” she said.

“We had come from uMlazi before that.”

Tifflin said Langeni’s already-woeful life took a turn for the worse in February when her two daughters left the flat.

“I was approached as a trustee of the building,” said Tifflin.

“Since then I have been feeding her.”

It is believed one of her daughters has died, and there was no one to collect their state benefits. Her other daughter, who has mental disabilities, was admitted to the nearby King George Hospital.

Tifflin said she had been unable to tell her that her daughter, who had fallen ill, had died, after emergency personnel were called to the building in February.

“I don’t want her to have a heart attack in front of me. She still thinks she is coming home.”

Department of Social Development spokesperson Mhlabunzima Memela said social workers had been working on Langeni’s case but the process was delayed by the lockdown.

“They made a temporary arrangement with the neighbour to take care of her while trying to fast-track processes for her to be admitted to the old-age home,” he said.

“During the level 5 and 4 of the lockdown, social workers tried to place Mrs Langeni in Natal Settlers, Abilindi and Zimbambeleni but homes were closed to outsiders because of Covid-19.

“Placing an old person in a home needs a full process to be done, including medical assessment.

“The Association for the Aged (Tafta) was approached again on Thursday and has agreed to accommodate Langeni provided the department undertake the Covid-19 test and all medical assessments on her.”

He said the Sydenham Clinic had agreed to test Langeni before she could get admitted to the home.

“In the interim, social workers have requested Tafta and Meals on Wheels to assist the family that takes care of Mrs Langeni with hot meals to ensure that she eats.

“In addition, we as an office put together a food hamper to give to the neighbour to provide support to Mrs Langeni.”

Memela said that by next week it was expected that she would have been moved to a home.

“The MEC (Nonhlanhla Khoza) has also engaged Sassa management to attend the issues of Mrs Langeni’s grant with speed.”

The Independent on Saturday

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