'This is our only home'

ELDERLY residents at a centre for the aged in Mpumalanga fear they will be left homeless should the social development department go ahead with its plan to close the facility.

The Boikhutsong old age centre in Pankop in KwaMhlanga area faces an uncertain future after social workers instructed the director of the centre, David Shika, to shut down the venue "because it is not up to standard".

The department has also instructed relatives of the 37 elderly people who are housed at the centre to remove them immediately. But the defiant oldsters said they were going nowhere.

"I'm not going anywhere. This place has been my home since 2006 and I enjoy myself here," said Tabea Matsepa, 76, of Mmametlhake.

She has been living at Boikhutsong for the past three years.

Another resident, Julia Molai, said: "Its been two years since I came here and I feel much more comfortable here.

"Why do these people want us out. My children are working and there won't be anyone to look after me if this facility is closed."

The centre has been operating since 2001 and all 37 elderly people living there depend on their relatives for food and other needs to survive.

The facility's director, David Shika, said problems started in June this year when he wrote to provincial social development MEC Dikeledi Mahlangu asking the department to assist them in building more rooms since the centre was too small to cater for the elderly.

"After receiving the letter the MEC sent health and safety inspectors and they found that the centre was not up to standard and must be closed down," Shika said.

The centre has been home to many elderly people over the past nine years and provides social activities as well as three meals for pensioners every day.

"What will I tell old people who need our service? Sorry, go home. We are closed from today. I can't do that," he said.

Many other elderly people were forced to leave the centre because they could not afford the monthly fee of R750.

The village's Chief Kgosi Ntokolo Maloka said the entire village was shocked by the news that the government was planning to shut down the facility.

Social development spokesperson Mpho Gabashane said the department had investigated the facility and found it to be uninhabitable, especially by the elderly.

"It does not meet the minimum norms and standards in terms of legislation for older persons. We have also discovered that it is not registered as required by legislation."

Gabashane said the decision to close the facility had been taken in the interest of the older people living at the facility..

"Among other things we are going to transfer the older people to other suitable facilities in the province and reintegrate some with their families, depending on individual circumstances.

"According to our records there are 35 elderly people in the facility. We've decided to close the facility or convert it into a service centre and we are willing to assist them through the process of registration for such a facility."