The appalling state of hostels in Alexandra township

Sewage sludge at Madala Men's Hostel in Alexandra township. Pic by Ramatamo Sehoai
Alexandra, Gauteng, South Africa


Alexandra Hostel dwellers and elsewhere in the City of Johannesburg are pinning their hopes on the new City’s administration led by the coalition of the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to restore their pride and dignity. For over two decades of democracy they have decried their appalling living conditions but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Many elections have passed. Promises were made. Little was done to change their lives.

The current Intergrated Develoment Plan (IDP) meetings that are doing the rounds in the City’s regions are a breath of fresh air and are giving them a sense of hope. Though there have been some disruptions regarding political differences in these meetings, here residents are given an opportunity to put forward their inputs and add their voice into how the City will spend over R50 billion of its budget. The new Executive Mayor, Herman Mashaba, has already said the significant portion of this budget will be used to address the acute housing backlog and improve the living conditions of the people living in the townships.

Inadequate lights in the corridors of Helen Joseph. Pic by Ramatamo Sehoai

“It makes me wonder why the ruling party despise hostels as the apartheid structure and yet they have done nothing to get rid of them. To quickly judge the new city administration at the expense of the previous one, for me that would be premature. I would say, let’s give them a chance,” said Violet Mvovo who has been staying at Helen Joseph Women’s hostel in Alexandra for more than 20 years.

Both Helen Joseph and Madala which is a men’s hostel in Alexandra were built in 1972 by the apartheid government to accomodate migrants from the rural areas as far as KZN, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Free State who came to big cities for employment opportunities.

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With the exception of Nobuhle, another hostel in Alex which is being converted into family units, Madala and Helen Joseph are still far away in terms of the development. There is a dilapidated water and sanitation infrastructure, lights are dysfunctional, the ceilling is falling down, walls are cracking and paint is peeling off. Even worse is that occasional fires that have erupted at Madala over the years, weakening its structure and turning it into a death trap.

“On top of that there is crime as we now have tarverns and spazas within the hostels. We are overcrowded, in one of the rooms there are 10 people. No privacy. We would really love to have houses or turn Madala into a family units, ” says Zakes Mbonani, Caretaker of Madala hostel.

Zakes Mbonani showing dilapidated toilets at Madala Hostel. Pic by Ramatamo Sehoai

At Helen Joseph, Mvovo is worried about the rate of growth of boy children and this has resulted into too much teenage pregnancy. Women also tend to fight each other because sharing a room with someone is not a pleasant experience. She agrees with Mbonani that all these problems can be solved if they are given houses or hostels be turned into family units.

“In this way we too will have our own freedom and independence,” she said

Looking at how these challenges can be solved, the former ANC Councillor, Chris Mabunda who witnessed different interventions earmarked to develop Madala hostel said towards the end of their term, a model was adopted to put an end to its dire state, unfortunately this was thwarted by the incoming of the new regime in the city.

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“Since there is no land in Alex, we planned to use an open space within the hostel where we will vacate people and start to demolish a hostel block by block. We hope the new administration will adopt this model. Any other plan would be a miracle,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of the Executive Mayor of the City, Tony Taverna- Turisan said quality housing is a priority for the Mayor and he wishes to restore the dignity of the city’s residents.

“He notes that a number of hostels are in a dilapidated state and we will be making some important announcements in the near future on upgrades to them,” he said.

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