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I ARRIVED at Simunye Community Health Centre in Westonaria at 9.20am yesterday with my winter coat and a backpack filled with an avocado sandwich, an energy bar and an orange.

I braced myself for a long day of shuffling through long queues and long tea breaks by staff.

The clinic was officially opened on Friday, so it was still in its clean and well maintained condition. As I walked into the building a winter chill greeted me before I could state my case at the reception.

“I am new in the area. I don’t really know my residential address. I need to see a doctor because I have this recurring pain under my breast that occurs around my menstrual cycle,” I tell the receptionist. With a swift scribble, I am handed a new clinic card.

I head for the back of the queue. Shortly thereafter a man comes to join the queue, but leaves shaking his head. “Maybe next time,” he says to the length of the passage, the length of the queue, the length of the wait and to the length of patience these patients need to have.

A woman three spaces from me is freezing. You see the chill on her face and hear the chattering of her teeth.She is here to get help but says she is freezing to death.

Another woman uses the time in the queue to teach her son numbers and the alphabet.

The nurse finally sees me at 10.40am. She says by looking at my physical make-up that she can tell I need to have a traditional ceremony performed for me at home by the elders. She tells me I must not ignore the old ways. She also tells me she is overworked, because she has taken on the work load of a doctor who is on leave.

“We are understaffed,” she says, and then prescribes painkillers: ibunate and paracetamol.

No X-ray, no checking medical history, nothing. There is no water to drink, to wash your hands with or to flush the toilet. The toilets are locked.

I spent 170 minutes in the facility but did not find out what was wrong with me.