Residents here believe that it is no coincidence that their township bears the name ‘Selahliwhe’, that means ‘to be dumped’ in Zulu ‘ which aptly describes the treatment they experience from their local municipality.
From 50 meters away the stench from the public toilets is overwhelming and one could easily mistake the smell for a decaying animal.
Adding to the dismal living conditions is the fact that the community taps, where water is collected for drinking and general household use, are only metres away from the toilets and a dumping site. Community members here believe that these unsanitary conditions are responsible for many of the health issues they experience.
“When it’s rainy and windy, a bad smell from the toilets comes towards our homes. I am currently on treatment for chest problems caused by the unhealthy environment,’ complained Mr M. Tshabalala, a resident at Selahliwe. ‘At the clinic they say that my [health] problem is caused by poor ventilation and unclean air. These toilets have been like this for more than three years”.
Linah Mabuya said her 11-year-old son has had diarrhoea for which he had to be treated at the clinic. She also said that there are flies that cause sores on the children’s skins.
Another resident, who prefers to remain anonymous, said: “I have been sick for the past three years and the doctors said it’s pneumonia that has been caused by bacteria and unclean air. I have also had chest problems, and I believe it is a result of me living near the toilets.”
Poor sanitation can cause many health problems such as gastro-intestinal tract infection (diarrhoea and vomiting) and respiratory-tract infection (TB and pneumonia). And according to Nurse Charmaine Mokoena of Mphohadi Clinic, many patients from Selahliwe present with symptoms of these diseases. “Many patients at the clinic are children under the age of five with diarrhoea, and just this month there were nine cases of pneumonia, 11 cases of TB, and the majority [of patients] are people from this settlement,” said Mokoena.
As preventive measures, people should wash their hands regularly, bleach and boil water before drinking, take a sugar-salt-water solution when they have diarrhoea and report to the clinic when they present any symptoms. “The clinic also has immunisations campaigns for children to help prevent diarrhoea and pneumonia,” said Mokoena.
* Thamsanqa Majola is the OurHealth Citizen Journalist reporting from Bethlehem in the Free State.