apartheid at old age home

Kingdom Mabuza

Kingdom Mabuza

They are already in their twilight years but the black residents of Pieter Wessels Old Age Home in Nigel, Ekurhuleni, still have to use separate and inferior facilities compared to their white counterparts.

And a senior official there said the blacks were "comfortable".

Racial segregation reminiscent of the abhorrent apartheid era is a daily thing for the elderly residents. They use separate toilets, sleep on single beds in rooms made from precast walls and eat with plastic spoons in a segregated dinning hall.

Doreen Coombs, an accountant at the home, told Sowetan that blacks were "comfortable to live separately. When they came here there was not enough space to accommodate everyone, so we built a structure like that because we have no resources," said Coombs.

White residents sleep in rooms built with bricks and their double beds are covered with linen that blacks do not have.

"When we try to move them (blacks) into the building they refuse because they want to be together. They are comfortable and happy. We have ordered linen but it has not been delivered yet. As soon as it is delivered everybody will have it."

The separateness is glaring, especially during lunch. On each table for whites, there is stainless steel cutlery. Each table is covered with a cloth and there are bottles of tomato sauce, mustard and salad dressings.

Tables for blacks are not covered and have no condiments. They eat pap and fish using plastic spoons.

"The dining hall had become too small, so we turned another room into one because the people just want to be on their own," Coombs said.

The menu and the method of serving are also different.

Whites serve themselves from a buffet table with a variety of dishes, while staff dish out for blacks from a mobile trolley.

"Impilo yomuntu omnyama inzima mfanawami,"(Life is hard for a black person, my son) remarked an old man, when asked about conditions at the home.

Another resident said they used separate entrances.

John Mogale is blind and insisted that Sowetan reveal his identity because he said he had had enough after he was refused permission to go to St Johns Eye Hospital in Soweto.

"I am blind and want to go to St Johns but I am denied that right. It appears that some people here have some unfounded fears when we want to go to places outside of here.

"We wash ourselves from a tap. We are told where to sleep, where to eat, which toilet to use. We cannot fight what is going on here. We are powerless," said Mogale.

Contacted for comment, Gauteng MEC for social development Kgaogelo Lekgoro said he would "get to the bottom of the allegations".