South Africa: Families Abandoned to Deadly Asbestos Risk

Several hundred people, including children, are living in an abandoned old age home with crumbling asbestos roofs in Makhanda.

The roughly 160 two-roomed houses in the Emaxhekwazini settlement in Joza were apparently built under apartheid by the Bantu Affairs Administration Board to house elderly people. In the early 2000s, some of the residents were moved to RDP houses elsewhere in the town and the municipality started to demolish the old houses.

But new families occupied the houses, which are now dilapidated and the area is filthy. Up to six people live in each house and they share one communal water tap. The houses are scattered across wasteland between the municipal housing department and Nompondo Street in Joza.

Asbestos was formerly used as insulation in buildings. But asbestos fibres can cause serious and even fatal lung disease, and the material is no longer used in construction. Demolishing asbestos roofs is specialised work, and demolition teams need high-level protection from the fibres.

Resident Nomandilakhe Masiza said she had moved in 2002. “We occupied the houses since we had no alternative place to live.”

Another resident, Mandilakhe Mzizi, who lives with his wife and two children, said he had applied for an RDP house. “But unfortunately I don’t get it. This place is not good at all. It is dirty and sewage sometimes overflows. But what can we do? We don’t have a choice,” said Mzizi.

Ward councillor Ramie Xonxa confirmed that the roofs were made of asbestos. He said nothing had been done about that because no-one was supposed to be living there. “The residents there know that they are there illegally.”

He said a council resolution had been taken in 2003 that the area should be earmarked for another development. But “there was no proper monitoring of the council resolution,” he said.

Makana Municipality Executive Mayor Mzukisi Mpahlwa said: “I know that the houses are dilapidated and in bad condition.” He did not answer questions about what was being done about the buildings and the people living in them.

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