Thokoza Hostels.Picture Zanele Zulu 09/03/2016
Thokoza Hostels.Picture Zanele Zulu 09/03/2016

Durban hostel children living in fear

By Tania Broughton Time of article published Mar 10, 2015

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Durban - They are Durban’s “hidden children” - smuggled past guards at the “women only” hostel where they live secretly with their mothers and guardians in constant fear of being found out.

But now 28 residents of Thokoza Women’s Hostel in Yusuf Dadoo (Grey) Street are going to court, challenging what they say are apartheid-like rules - separating mothers from their children - imposed by the eThekwini Municipality.

With the city dictating that all children living there must be gone by this Sunday the women, assisted by the Legal Resources Centre, will apply for an urgent interdict in the Durban High Court on Wednesday, preventing this pending a judicial review of the “no kids” policy.

The city is expected to oppose the application, but has not yet filed any papers. Spokeswoman Gugu Sisilana said the official dealing with the matter was not available to comment on Monday.

The hostel officially sleeps 1 000, but is home to about 2 000 people, among them Nomvula Zulu and her sisters Winnie and Xoli. They had four children living with them.

While her sisters worked, Nomvula stayed at home, baking cakes and looking after the children.

This entailed “smuggling” the older ones in and out of the hostel every day so they could attend school.

“Security at the hostel is extremely strict and residents may only enter and exit using swipe tags. Security guards are stationed at the entrance to monitor comings and goings,” she said.

“We are aware of the no-children rule, but it has not been strictly enforced and it has always been an open secret that some children live there.

“This has led to an absurd situation where the children are effectively hidden in the rooms, out of sight of the superintendent. They are not permitted to play in the quadrant and are confined to their mothers’ rooms once they return from school.”

Nomvula said every morning she let the children out using her disc except on days when the superintendent was at the main gate and they were forced to stay at home.

“We live in constant fear that the children will be barred from re-entering when they come home.

“We have been told they will be locked out and that the police’s dog unit will be called to chase us out of the building.”

She said one day last year, the guards had refused to allow the children back in the afternoon.

They were taken to a friend’s flat and smuggled back in late that night.

In January this year, the residents were told of a “crackdown”, that children had to leave and, in future, all male children older than 10 would also be barred, even from visiting during the school holidays.

The next month, the children were again stopped from entering, but were later sneaked in when no one was looking.

After intervention by the Legal Resource Centre - and in spite of assurances that this would not happen again - the superintendent “chased the children out on to the street” one afternoon.

Under threat of court action, they were let back in at 6pm.

Nomvula said they had now been told that all the children must go by this Sunday.

“Many of us do not have anywhere to send our children. We once tried to relocate them to an informal settlement near Umgeni Road, renting a shack for R1 200 a month. But we brought them back because the conditions were unsanitary and dangerous.

“If our children are barred from the building, they will be homeless,” she said.

In correspondence attached to the court papers, the hostel’s superintendent, Siyabonga Mkhize, said the current structure of the building ‘does not permit for children’, but there were plans to upgrade it to allow residents to live as families.

He said some residents complained that children damaged cars, left taps running, and babies cried all night, disrupting sleep.

Workers at the building complained about an increased workload and systems were overloaded because of overcrowding.

‘I gave residents a grace period of seven days to comply with the no-children policy. At no point did I mention that I would evict tenants that have children in the building,’ he said.

The Mercury

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