NOWHERE TO GO
Nelson Mandela Bay old age homes collapsing, but budget remains unspent
With no maintenance for almost a decade, grass that remains uncut, water pipes being looted, broken windows and doors, collapsing bathrooms, and electricity cables being stolen daily, residents of two municipal old age homes in Nelson Mandela Bay are living under siege. But, given the dire need for accommodation for the destitute elderly, people are lining up for a spot as it is better than sleeping in the veld or on the street.
‘The other day a woman came to beg us for a place to stay. She had been discharged from the hospital and was living in a toilet. I said the room was in a very bad condition, but she said she would take it.”
Bonita Meintjies (63) is living at the Adcock Old Age Home in Gqeberha. While residents struggle with dilapidated bathrooms, doors that no longer open and street children who run into the premises to grab what they can, destitute elderly people are still clamouring for one of the neglected rooms.
“People have nowhere to go,” Meintjies said.
Meintjies and two of the residents of the Elizabeth Stuurman Old Age Home across the street, Oswald Prins and Danny Moss, have taken the lead in advocating for better living conditions for residents.
Maintenance and upkeep of the old age homes and gardens fall under the municipality’s human settlements department.
“In 2016, when Danny Jordaan was mayor, he came and said he cannot allow us to pay for living like this, so we haven’t been paying anything. But they also haven’t fixed anything,” Moss said.
“Since the municipality took over this place in 2016, nothing has happened.”
At the Adcock Old Age Home, the old front doors of the rooms no longer open and residents are forced to use the back doors, but many of these no longer close properly, leaving the residents vulnerable to criminals.
In one instance, criminals broke through a safety gate, walked into the bathroom, ripped the geyser out of the wall and left.
“We are supposed to work with the officials from human settlements,” Prins said, “but it is really not working.”
According to the latest annual report from Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, the Department of Human Settlements underspent their budget for old age homes by R561,000 in the previous financial year.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Older people in South Africa not receiving the care they deserve, says Human Rights Watch
“Things got bad after 2016,” Prins said.
“My question is, what have they done with the money meant for the old age homes? Where is it? When we ask them to cut the grass, they tell us there is no money.”
Prins said 110 people were living in the Elizabeth Stuurman Old Age Home.
“There are 40 rooms here that have been vandalised. I also lived here but it became too dangerous so we had to leave. The rooms have shared bathrooms but some residents use a potty in their rooms.
“If the municipality can fix it, people can live here. Twenty units were damaged in a fire 20 years ago and nothing was done to fix it,” he added.
“What makes us angry is that since 2016 nobody has been given a room here. They keep on telling us there is a waiting list. But they say, when they phone, the people have died. There have been 110 promises from every mayor we had about the burnt building. Nothing ever happens,” he said.
Currently, the burnt building has developed a roof problem.
“If the wind is blowing like it did in the past few days, you can see that roof lifting,” Moss said. “It is going to fall on someone.”
“For the past five months we have been reporting that there is no hot water,” Prins added.
“At night you must come and see how the elderly are sleeping outside the hospital. They have nowhere to go. A lot of the elderly are sleeping behind the Adcock Stadium. There is a field here where you see the elderly sleeping at night.”
Constant vandalism and theft have chased some residents away.
“The security we have here is very bad,” Moss said. “They are a waste of time.”
Moss has been a resident of Elizabeth Stuurman for the past 13 years.
“Thieves come here at night and they take the electrical cables, the windows and the doors. Also the security doors. People had to leave because they just couldn’t live there any more,” Moss said.
“All the electrical cables were stolen. There were 40 rooms. They took the cables, the windows, the handles on the doors,” he said.
Prins said a man came to ask for water from a resident a few days ago, then ran away with his phone.
“A smartphone, I tell you. They sit there by the gate… and one of the men just hung up his washing, and the next thing he saw they were running away with his blanket. They didn’t even bother to climb the fence. They just walked out the gate with it. It is very frustrating for us.”
After that, residents – with the help of community members – removed the security guards from the premises.
“There was a woman here who was 78. She was busy with her ablutions when a thief came through the roof. She got such a fright. The next day she packed her things and left. She had somewhere to go. Now we tell the story and we laugh, but it was very sad,” he said.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Our forgotten people – the elderly’s right to housing is overlooked
He said residents had to fetch their water from an outside tap.
“Some of our residents struggle to walk. They have to walk three times to fetch water some days.”
The oldest resident is 94: “She lives in a room where the door won’t close any more.
“There are no fire extinguishers here any more. The security came to fetch all of them but they were long out of date anyway,” he said.
Public donations of vitamin pills and crutches were discovered locked in one of the rooms. Now the pills are past their use-by date.
“What must we do with all these pills now?” Moss asked.
The unkempt gardens still have struggling rose bushes, fruit trees and shrubs, but the grass is overgrown. Blocked drains have spewed sewage all over the garden. A water pipe, broken by vandals, was sealed by the municipality after months of reports by residents.
The municipality was scheduled to meet with residents on 11 October. By Monday afternoon, it had not responded to requests for comment. DM