“What must I do now, throw away my child?” – Thokoza Hostel resident

Tensions are still running high at the Thokoza Hostel in the Durban CBD this week after a court ruling permitting the children to live together with their mothers at the hostel. The presence of the children, whose mothers make up a tiny percentage of the women at the hostel, has been a source of friction among residents who say they shouldn’t be there. ZIMASA MATIWANE spoke to residents about this complex issue.

Mabongi NgcoboMabongi Ngcobo, 49, municipal worker, Thokoza
Children are not allowed to live here; it is the rules of this place and we all must abide by them. The building was built for workers, not families. Children visit only during holidays. When the tenants sign a lease agreement, they agree to follow the rules, but now some woman are forcefully staying with children. We have 950 people living here, some rooms have up to 15 people sharing. The condition of this place does not allow us to live as families. There are sick people, small overcrowded rooms, we cook in the rooms and in corridors. There are about 200 people per floor sharing six showers and toilets, what will happen when people are allowed to bring their children? I think the court should bring health inspectors to see if this place is fit for children to live. I also have children I would like to live with, but the conditions do not allow me. If we can all bring our children here this place would be a disaster.

Sylvia GiyaniSylvia Giyani, 65, pensioner, Thokoza
Children only come to visit in December, since I have been here since 1996. There are 14 people living in this room; they all have children. Imagine what will happen if everyone brought their children. We can tolerate the untidiness children cause in December because we are parents too, but bringing them here full time can’t happen. Right now when I want to bath I have to stand in a queue for hours because it’s always full; how bad will it be when we have children permanently living here, rushing to bath and go to school each morning? We sleep here, cook here, and we urinate in buckets in here. Even the conditions we live under are not good for us adults, much less children. I have been here for 19 years and I know and understand why kids shouldn’t live here. We are not being cruel to the mothers.

Phumzile KhozaPhumzile Khoza, 25, unemployed, Thokoza
I live with my little girl and we share a room with two other women. It’s like living under apartheid because of this no children rule. This is the only hostel where kids are not allowed. I can’t not live with my child because she needs me. We hear stories of kids being raped every day, I can’t trust anyone with my daughter. It’s true that the space here is small but we need the municipality to build us suitable accommodation. I do casual work and money is tight. I can’t burden my elderly mother to look after a toddler. Besides no loving mother should ever be separated from her child by force. We have women’s and children’s rights in South Africa and that is not what they stand for. What must I do now, throw away my child?

Zakhona RadebeZakhona Radebe, 37, street vendor, Thokoza
I have been here for 15 years. I have a child and I don’t know where I would possibly take my child because there are no people to look after my baby at home. I can’t leave the city too, because I work here to make money. I can’t afford to go back home to sit and do nothing because I have two other children that I take care of financially. No one has the right to tell me they don’t want my child here; the lady I share this room with has no problem with my child. The municipality promised to build us family units in 2012. When they build them I will leave this place with my child. I don’t want to be here but what can I do? I have no choice but to be here. My child is 15 months old, you can’t tell me she is bringing dirt or disturbing peace. We are all tenants here. No one can tell me to move out because I have a child. My daughter has to live with me until she is 18; that is how I want to raise her. It is our right to live together.

Xoli ZuluXoli Zulu, 27, self-employed, Thokoza
I am in the city to make a better life for my family, therefore, I can’t leave and I cannot afford to stay in a flat. This is our strategy to get the municipality to upgrade this hostel like the rest of the men’s hostels in Durban; we also need family units in Thokoza. For the municipality to fast track progress we will live here with the children. It makes me sad that the other women are fighting against us. They are also mothers and we should be standing up together against the municipality, not fighting each other. We are fighting for family units and they will benefit everyone, including the ones opposing us currently. We have been waiting since 2012 for the municipality to build us family units, this is our last resort. We should be together in this as women. We are all mothers here and they would also like to live with their children; that won’t happen until we stand together and fight for our rights.

– Voxes have been edited for brevity and clarity
– All images: Zimasa Matiwane