The DA's Sharon Hoosen recently conducted an oversight visit to the Zisize Care Centre in Ulundi Picture: Facebook
Durban - The Department of Social Development (DSD) is investigating allegations of sexual relations and abuse at a KwaZulu-Natal centre for the physically and mentally challenged.

This comes after an oversight visit to the Zisize Care Centre in Ulundi by the DA’s spokesperson on Social Development, Sharon Hoosen.

Hoosen said she had written to the Social Development MEC Weziwe Thusi and laid a complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). Department spokesperson Ncumisa Ndelu said the allegations were being looked into.

Hoosen said a “litany of horrific claims” were brought to her attention by community members who asked the DA to intervene. These included claims that residents were “bitten and receiving corporal punishment from caregivers, and that there was unprotected sex between HIV- and non-HIV-positive residents. This while staff and management allegedly turn a blind eye”, she said.

Claims included physically and mentally challenged residents sleeping in the same dormitories, no nurse on site and a lack of medical monitoring, leading to the spread of disease. There is a “critical” shortage of caregivers, as well as unsuitable toilets and bathrooms for disabled people.

“A physically disabled resident is forced to bath himself and physically challenged residents also have to do their own laundry. Nothing could have prepared the DA delegation for what we saw and heard at this centre and we remain deeply disturbed by these findings, which we have taken up directly with the management,” said Hoosen.

However, the centre’s managing director, Samukelisiwe Moloi, disputed the allegations.

Having personally hosted Hoosen, Moloi said she found it disingenuous that Hoosen was going public when she did not mention these issues during her visit.

“When I spoke to her (Hoosen) I shared some of our challenges. We are short-staffed and don’t have as many caregivers as we would like. That is a funding problem and not the fault of the DSD, which gives us funds according to the number of residents,” she said.

The centre currently houses 59 residents and has seven caretakers.

Moloi said on the day of Hoosen’s visit, there were five caretakers on site because the other two had escorted residents outside the facility.

She admitted the centre did not have a nurse because the department did not subsidise for one, but said residents who needed medical care were transported to clinics and hospitals.

Residents were mixed in the five-sleeper dorms, which, she claims, is standard. Those who were physically able did their own laundry. “We provide care and protection, but we are not a hospital. We encourage residents to do what they would normally do at home,” said Moloi.

Regarding the alleged abuse of residents by caregivers, Moloi said she had not received such complaints from residents or family members. “There was one resident who complained about being hit when being woken up, but when the social worker investigated we found that the resident had to be shaken awake.”

She said that although sexual relations were forbidden in the facility, this did not guarantee that it did not happen. “They are not under police guard. We have separate dorms for men and women, but we cannot police every resident 24/7. This is why, despite the rules, sex education and HIV awareness by the social worker, we still provide condoms,” she said.

The SAHRC had not confirmed receipt of the complaint by the time of publication.

The Mercury