Hand sanitiser and social distancing not priorities in communities battling poverty

Cape Town – Extra soap and hand sanitisers are the least of these communities’ priorities. Residents in some informal settlements tell a much more despairing tale of a lack of resources and little to no knowledge of how to deal with the coronavirus.

People living in informal settlements, as well as municipal flats on the Cape Flats, say they do not feel that the government has paid enough attention to their needs.

When Weekend Argus visited Mfuleni, Siyahlala informal settlement in Philippi, Enkanini informal settlement in Khayelitsha and Manenberg municipal flats earlier this week, it was business as usual, with children playing in heaps of uncollected rubble, broken communal taps and informal traders selling anything from fruit, to building materials, to even animal intestines to make a living.

Speaking to the residents of Manenberg, a sense of anger and despair immediately fills the air. “Where are we supposed to get money for sanitiser when we don’t work? We need money for bread for the children that are now at home for longer,” they said.

The community, which is largely dependent on social grants, said the little they had “barely fulfils our daily needs, why can’t the government go around to communities like ours and at least provide us with gloves, masks and sanitisers during this period?”

Patricia Mentoor, 37, and a group of neighbours who had just returned from a local food supply truck said the majority of the community visited the station for at least one meal a day.

“You see these containers… we go get food from the People’s Centre. It is the only guaranteed meal we have a day. I have a half a loaf at home for my three children; money is very tight. The government tells us about social distancing and washing hands often – that, for us, does not make sense.

“That is for rich people who can afford to buy soap all the time and have enough room in their homes to stay apart. We live in one-bedroom flats. In most households, it’s four to five families in one unit. That is between 12 and 15 people. How do we distance ourselves?” said the mother of three.

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With up to 15 people per square metre in townships and on the Cape Flats, South Africa is bracing itself in the event of the coronavirus taking foothold in these high density areas. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Many in informal settlements have to share a single communal tap, while many are unemployed and hand sanitiser is but a pipe dream. With little to no funds to secure basic necessities, hand sanitiser and extra soap are luxuries.

Speaking to Weekend Argus, Enkanini community leader Sinethemba Ntantiso, 43, said they had little to no education to help secure them from the pandemic.

“As you can see, we live in a dense community and there is very little we can do. Many of us live in small shacks in families of 10 to 15, so there is no way we can adhere to the social distance that the government speaks of.

“Secondly, we have a challenge – scarcity of water – and that on its own makes it difficult for us to fight the disease. Saddest thing is that no official has even bothered to visit these volatile areas to lend a helping hand. It is a fact that unemployment is rife in our communities and therefore hand sanitiser is not a priority on our shopping list,” he said.

“Our areas are not regularly cleaned. Even our communal toilets have not been cleaned in over three months, and that could also lead to health issues,” he added.

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Bonga Martenc and Monwabisi Jack in front of a shebeen in Enkanini. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Similarly, shebeen owner Monwabisi Jack confirmed that hygiene was a problem in the area. However, he said his biggest fear was a loss of income.

“If the president says there can’t be more than 100 people gathered in one place, then that could mean a big problem for me and my family. This shebeen is our main source of income,” he said.

Jack added that he believed the hand-washing message was nothing but a joke.

“How can they tell us to wash our hands when we do not have the facilities or the resources to do so? Over 20 families have to share one communal tap, which is not always in a clean state, causing more harm. We are in big trouble as residents in informal settlements,” he said.





Video: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Mayco member for human settlements Malusi Booi could not detail what measures were in place to assist the vulnerable communities, but said: “Basic and essential services in informal settlements continue, albeit with heightened precautions in accordance with Covid-19 measures for the safety of residents, staff and contractors.”

Mayco member for community services and health Zahid Badroodien said: “City Health has also increased its health and hygiene drives in all vulnerable communities, where we share information on preventing contamination so that residents can assist in the containment of Covid-19.”

Weekend Argus

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