A man cooks in the passage of his bedroom. Picture: Bongani Mbatha /African News Agency (ANA)

Durban - A town hall in Mooi River has turned into a hostel that is occupied by more than 200 people.

Hundreds of people had come to the small town of Mooi River, in the midlands of KwaZulu-Natal hoping for a better life.

However, their living conditions worsened when their hostel was set alight by the mob in Bruntville Township five years ago.  

As a temporary arrangement, they were housed at the town hall by the municipality while plans to get a suitable place were underway.

But that promise did not materialise as the municipality struggled to provide a suitable place, citing financial constraints.  

A man resting on the bed inside Mpofana Municipality kitchen inside the town hall. Picture Bongani Mbatha /African News Agency (ANA)

The town hall has deteriorated and was no longer hosting functions or council activities like before.

Frustrated dwellers spoke of their suffering and revealed squalor conditions they lived under.

Mpofana Municipality town hall in Mooi river. Picture Bongani Mbatha /African News Agency (ANA)

Dwellers said toilets and water drains were blocked, resulting in a foul smell. Some windows could not work and the wooden floor was riddled with holes.

The dwellers had gone to court through the assistance of the Legal Resource Centre, which ordered Mpofana Municipality to provide temporary and permanent residence before December 2020. 

Vumani Cekwane, 41, said he lost everything when the hostel was burnt down.

He said they could not afford to find a place on their own as the majority of them were low-income earners.

Cekwane, who works as a security guard, said most of them came from the Midlands and worked as security guards while others were factory workers.

He pleaded with the provincial and national department to intervene as the municipality was struggling.

"Even prisoners lived better than us. We all sleep on this floor, others do not even have mattresses," he said pointing at a pile of blankets.
Cekwane said the situation was getting worse as more people were joining them at the hall searching for jobs.    

“The hall is congested and inhuman. Sometimes, we spend a week without water and electricity.  We are seen as problematic people who have overtaken the hall, but the reality we don't want to be here. The community has turned against us because they can no longer host their event here,” said Cekwane.

Forty-two-year-old factory worker Nonhlanhla Mweli expressed concern that the hall was at risk of catching fire due to the number of stoves they were using.

"There is a lot of flammable things here I am worried one day this hall will catch fire.

Mweli also said decried the lack of privacy.

“There is no privacy here, every time you sleep you wonder whether you will make it the next day. It gets extremely hot or cold at times. I wish I could go home but I came to this town to work for my family back home," she said.

Acting Municipal Manager Hlula Dladla said the municipality was on its knees and was struggling to find a suitable venue.

The municipality was placed under administration last year and owes Eskom millions.

He said the municipality had lost millions in revenue which could have been raised in hall hire.

Hlula blamed on discrepancies in documenting the dwellers when the hostel burned down, adding that the number of dwellers have doubled putting pressure on municipality.

"We have identified three vacant plots to rebuild the hostel as per the court order.

We also want them out of the hall so we can be able to raise money from the hall because this is a violation of our town planning by-laws.

This municipality has not been in good financial standing which also delayed the whole process. But we have received assistance from the provincial department, we hope that once we finalise the land we will be able to rebuild the hostel," he said. 

SUNDAY TRIBUNE