Women’s hostel two-week blackout blamed on strike in eThekwini

Five women from Thokoza Hostel were arrested on Tuesday after protesting to get the electricity restored

By Tsoanelo Sefoloko

13 March 2024

Occupants of Thokoza Hostel in Durban protested on Tuesday morning, demanding that eThekwini Municipality restore their electricity which has been off for about two weeks. Photos: Tsoanelo Sefoloko

Five women were arrested on Tuesday morning during a protest for better living conditions at Thokoza Hostel in Durban. The hostel has been without electricity for nearly two weeks and they were demanding that eThekwini Municipality restore power immediately.

KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Nqobile Gwala said protesters blockaded Yusuf Dadoo and Gladys Manzi Street with burning tyres and threw “objects at the police”. The five arrested protesters will appear in court soon, he said.

Resident Thandani Ngcobo said her back was bleeding after she was hit by a rubber bullet.

Thokoza Hostel, a large pink building, is one of about ten historically single-sex hostels in eThekwini built during apartheid for women from rural areas working in the metro. It is home to hundreds of women as well as their families who share small, cramped, dorm-style rooms. Some people we spoke to say they’ve lived there for over 23 years.

The windows are broken and there’ is stagnant water in the courtyard of the hostel.

Hostel chair Ntombifuthi Hlophe said they had gone to the mayor’s office to get answers as to why the electricity was off. They were only told that workers were on strike.

“We understand that there is a strike by the eThekwini municipality workers, but what about our rights?” said Hlophe.

Mvuzo Ntombela, from Abunye Bamahostela Mvuzom, an NGO advocating for the rights of people living in hostels, said that without electricity the hostel was not a safe place.

“Anything can happen in the hostel because at night it becomes so dark. Walking around the yard, one can be raped or marked by criminals,” said Ntombela.

Residents also complain that the municipality has not maintained the hostel. Most of the windows are broken, pipes are leaking, the courtyard has puddles of foul-smelling water and the communal toilets are broken.

EThekwini Municipality spokesperson Gugu Sisilana said Thokoza Hostel was one of many places experiencing power and water outages as a result of the ongoing workers’ strike.

Municipal workers affiliated to SAMWU have downed tools since late February. This has disrupted a number of services provided by the municipality.

Sisilana said the mayor is expected to present a detailed service delivery recovery plan on Wednesday.

Rooms such as this one are shared by up to eight people.