FREEDOM DAY | 'We have no food parcels, no tractors - and our councillor is nowhere to be seen'

27 April 2020 - 12:26 By Mpumzi Zuzile
Bongiwe Hambi, 42, is a regular at Punzana clinic, outside King William's Town.
Bongiwe Hambi, 42, is a regular at Punzana clinic, outside King William's Town.
Image: Mpumzi Zuzile

For residents of Tildin, 20km outside King William’s Town, their local clinic may be in a poor state of repair, but they are happy with the service it provides.

Ahead of Freedom Day, villagers told TimesLIVE that while for them it’s just another day, they are grateful for the Punzana clinic, which serves them and eight surrounding villages.

But the village folk don’t visit much these days because they’re afraid of the coronavirus.

Punzana clinic was built in 1965 by missionaries and the original structure hasn’t changed. And with the coronavirus and lockdown, nurses say they have seen few people visiting.

“On a normal day this place is packed and people end up sitting outside under the trees. People are afraid of this pandemic,” a nurse said.

Even though none of the nurses were wearing masks or disposable gloves, a security guard was sanitising the hands of everyone entering the clinic property. The clinic has not screened or tested anyone for Covid-19, raising fears about whether the disease has reached the rural area.

“We just pray no-one has that disease in our area. I don’t know how I’m going to react,” another nurse said.

Facing the threat of a “no-touch” instruction to nurses, and mounting union pressure and legal threats, the Eastern Cape department of health said earlier this month that all personnel working at health facilities would be classified according to the infection risks their jobs held to determine what personal protective equipment they need.

The province is seeing an alarming increase in the number of people testing positive for Covid-19 because of funerals, soccer tournaments and people not adhering to lockdown rules, according to senior government officials.

I normally cut grass for two or three houses a day. But since the lockdown people have been indoors.

The Punzana clinic, which has a leaking roof, still operates in the same way it has always done.  It only has a tank to supply it with water, which regularly runs dry, and two pit latrines for sanitation. It took TimesLIVE 40 minutes to drive on a gravel road to reach it.

Residents say the clinic roof is nearly caving in, and the structure was made from mud and brick. 

The storage room is full of cracks and was described by nurses as dangerous.

“When it rains water comes through these cracks,” one nurse explained.

A doctor visits the clinic once a week and three elderly men were waiting for the doctor when TimesLIVE arrived. They say the doctor starts at other clinics and health facilities around Peddie before visiting them.

Another nurse says she is concerned that the clinic might one day just collapse.

“This place is old. It leaks and not conducive for people to work in, but we have no option. We don’t know when the government will build us a new clinic,” she said.

Unemployed resident Nothekanti Zaya, 59, went to the clinic when she was in labour with her first baby in 1978.

“They didn’t have electricity at the time. They were using lanterns and candles. The equipment was minimal and only white nurses were allowed to deliver babies. On that night there were assistant nurses on duty but they managed to help and an ambulance arrived hours later to take me to Mount Coke Hospital,” Zaya explained.

“It is about time that government built us a new clinic,” Zaya said.

Another patient, Bongiwe Hambi, 42, is a regular at the clinic and says she is happy with the service.

“I was born at this clinic. I do not know any other health facility than this one. Even though it is old it serves our needs and surrounding villages,” she said.

Hambi, who had visited the clinic to collect her flu medication, is concerned about the very small water tank at the facility.

“When the village is out of water, the clinic is also out of water. We sometimes spend six months without water.”

Sakhiwo Magqalana, 45, remembers being treated for acne at the clinic. He has a small grass cutting business and cannot make a living in the lockdown.

“I normally cut grass for two or three houses a day. But since the lockdown people have been indoors,” he says.

Magqalana, who normally organises a soccer tournament in the villages as part of Freedom Day celebrations, said this year no meetings have been held to prepare for a tournament.

“Because of this lockdown nothing is going happen. A number of boys have been inquiring. The ward councillor is also nowhere to be found,” he said.

Clinic committee member Lennox Mpanca, 65, will celebrate Freedom Day at his home with his wife and four grandchildren.

Mpanca, who complains about high levels of poverty in the area, described the clinic as the only beacon of hope.

“This clinic has stood the test of time. The road is bad. We have electricity but when it rains, the electricity goes off. Water comes and goes,” Mpanca says.

This clinic has stood the test of time. The road is bad. We have electricity but when it rains, the electricity goes off. Water comes and goes…

Meanwhile, Phumzile Mathiso, 64, remembers being treated for chickenpox and measles at the clinic.

“Chickenpox was the main disease that most of us suffered from, but now people suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure and HIV.”

Even though he is happy with the service, Mathiso is also worried by the state of the clinic.

“A heavy storm will flatten this building. Let’s thank God that no such storm has hit our area,” he says.

Residents are worried about poverty in the area which they think will lead to more people getting sick.

“There has been no food parcels delivered in our area. Our tractors have broken down so we can't plough our own land. We do not know who our councillor is and what he does.

“We are only remembered that we are alive during elections. Next year, they will all be seen driving up and down begging us to vote for them,” Mpanca said.


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