hospital removalbrings anger, joy

Namhla Tshisela

Namhla Tshisela

The planned relocation of Natalspruit Hospital on the East Rand from Katlehong to Vosloorus has evoked mixed reactions from residents of the two townships.

While residents in Vosloorus feel the project is "long overdue", the relocation leaves the community of Katlehong with an uncertain future.

Natalspruit Hospital, situated on the aptly named Hospital Street, was built in 1959.

South Africa's most famous Siamese twins Mpho and Mphonyana Mathibela were born at the hospital.

It was at the centre of the turbulent 1980s and 1990s when victims of political violence from areas including Thokoza and Vosloorus were admitted to the hospital.

It has undergone several revamps, which have been unsuccessful at rescuing the dilapidated hospital from its current condition

"The old hospital was built on a high risk dolomitic site with a huge possibility of developing sinkholes. The safety of the institution and its patients cannot be guaranteed at a later stage," said Gauteng health spokesman Zanele Mngadi.

The yet to be named new hospital - construction started in May 2006 - will provide various services, including primary health care, in- and out-patient and emergency services, gynaecology, a mortuary, pharmacy and specialised surgery.

Mngadi said the 760-bed facility would be completed in June 2011 and would serve a population of more than 700000.

"A long process started in 2001 to identify a suitable site in a low dolomite risk area and was secured from the Ekurhuleni Metro in Vosloorus," she said.

This has, however, not deterred Natalspruit Hospital from attracting many small businesses and retailers.

On Hospital Street is the Letsogo shopping complex. It boasts finance houses such as Absa Bank and Standard Bank, and retailers such as SuperSpar, Pep Stores, Ackermans and Link Pharmacy.

Informal traders also take up the little space that is available at the precinct and have transformed the complex into a sprawling open air market.

A pungent infusion of offal, burning rubber and imphepho from the stalls of vendors hangs in the air. Live but scantily-feathered chickens in small cages are enough to get the SPCA talking.

Here, bargain shoppers can get anything from freshly slaughtered meat, second-hand clothing, shoes and have their hair plaited at discount prices.

It is here where Queen Zondo, 55, of Sunrise informal settlement in Katlehong, has been eking out a living for more than 20 years. Though she knows of the pending move, she is determined to stay.

"I can't move. I've become too used to this place," she says.

Zondo said she was attracted to the spot by the sheer number of people who pass there every day.

"I expect the number [of people] to drop drastically when the hospital moves.

"Of course I am going to suffer, but I am too old to start trading elsewhere. I have to make way for young blood."

Taxi driver George Kganane also fears the worst. A member of the Katlehong People's Taxi Association, he said conflict over new routes was almost inevitable.

The association carries commuters from Germiston, Johannesburg, Tembisa, Spruitview and Vosloorus.

Kganane expected the number of passengers to dwindle, following the move.

"There will be more taxis and fewer passengers. Talks are ongoing between taxi associations in Vosloorus and Katlehong to avoid conflict."

Lesang Lecage, owner of Alpha Plastic Ware, said the taxi rank was her only hope.

"There is little hope for my business if all the taxi operators also move. They are bound to follow their clients wherever they may go," she said.

After more than 10 years in the trade, Lecage faces uncertainty.

"If there was another shopping complex nearby I would move, but this is the only one."

Mngadi said a new taxi rank would be built around the new hospital to make it accessible to residents in surrounding areas,

Although few have misgivings, the residents of Vosloorus have welcomed the new hospital.

Susan Soha, 55, of Somalia Park informal settlement, said it was through the "mercy of God" that the hospital was being built in Vosloorus.

"Now we can just walk to hospital. Even if it means we have to take ourselves there because of ambulances arriving late, at least we will not die in our homes because we had nowhere to go."

She said the hospital would provide much-needed services for the aged and those with HIV-Aids.

A trained caregiver, Soha wishes to find work when the hospital is finally opened.

"Maybe the hospital will have some use for an old woman like me.

Young people have little patience for looking after old and sick people," she said.