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Thandeka Dlwengu has given up any shred of hope of ever leading a normal life after spending all her life living under squalid conditions in Kirkwood, Eastern Cape.

Dlwengu (53) lives with her four adult children and a grandchild in a poorly built pole and zinc shack in Mpukaneni informal settlement, in Moses Mabhida township. Such is the dire situation of residents of that settlement that some shacks are made from reeds and mortar material.

Mpukaneni settlement is built on a site that used to be an illegal dumping ground. Residents said they risk contracting diseases because the place is infested with flies, rats and pigs that scavenge for raw human excrement that is scattered over the area.

Dlwengu, who is paralysed and wheelchair-bound lamented her living conditions and that of her neighbours, blaming the government for not taking care of them. Her shack is overcrowded and crammed with household goods. It has no adequate ventilation. As the sole breadwinner in her family while her four children are not working, her situation is bleak. They depend for survival on her monthly disability grant.

Dlwengu said, “Mpukaneni is a place where the hopeless and the downtrodden people reside. It was out of desperation that we turned a previously dumping ground into our settlement.”

When Elitsha visited the area last month, sewage was flowing from a burst manhole a few metres away from Dlwengu’s shack. The excrement emitted a heavy stench that occupied the atmosphere. Surprisingly, residents said they were not moved or affected by the bad odour as they were used to it. Dlwengu explained, “It is not good to get used to this kind of life. We have been living with raw sewage for the past four years we have been here. We live with dogs and pigs that scramble against each other to feast on the excrement.”

Dlwengu told Elitsha that she applied for a house: “I registered on the housing list several years ago but nothing has been coming my way. I have just given up on ever getting a house. This is one of the reasons that drove me to come and stay here. I couldn’t spend money on rentals because I still have to provide for my children who are not employed.

“Life is not good for all the residents living here. The area is very cold and becomes muddied when it is raining. Water flows right into our shacks. It is even very difficult to move my wheelchair when it is raining because of mud that makes the ground wet and slippery. We had to dig our own pit toilets because the government failed to even provide us with the bucket system. We cook using fire made from wood we collect from surrounding farms. I only cook with a paraffin stove if I have money, but paraffin is very expensive these days.”

Her son, Masixole Dlwengu blamed the high rate of unemployment plaguing Kirkwood for the poor living conditions of residents. “Most people are not working while those that are lucky work as seasonal workers on citrus farms that are dotted around Kirkwood. It is a place for people with no alternative accommodation. There is only one tap of water that is far away and cannot be easily accessed by disabled people like my mother. Neither is there electricity or paved roads in the settlement. Residents use pit toilets that quickly fill up due to the high population of people using the toilets. Some residents opt to use a nearby swamp area to relieve themselves.”

Spokesperson for the Eastern Cape Department of Human Settlements, Yanga Funani acknowledged the disheartening situation Thandeka Dlwengu is living under after being alerted by Elitsha. He said officials from the department visited Mpukaneni informal settlement on 27 October. “Mrs Thandeka Dlwengu has been living in an absolutely dilapidated, leaking zinc structure for more than four years. The structure is literally falling apart, and she is totally and constantly exposed to all kinds of weather. This structure is simply uninhabitable and it is absolutely inhuman to see any person or living soul seeking shelter in such a structure.

“The erf is however with no waterborne sanitation, electricity available on-site except for one communal standpipe 200 metres away.

“Considering the dire situation of Mrs Dlwengu, the officials have approached the Sundays River Valley Municipality with a request for a suitable serviced site where a temporary structure can be erected for Mrs Dlwengu while application for such a structure and the subsidy application will be submitted to the relevant section at head office without delay for consideration.”

The human settlements department will even see to it that her new house will be constructed to be accessible for a disabled person.