Villagers donate money to build a clinic in a shack

Villagers in the rural Eastern Cape struggling to access health services have tried to create their own infrastructure

By Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

9 September 2020

Photo of a shack and a man in front

This shack was built by community members who hope it will be used as the base for a clinic. Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

Villagers of Nquthu, Dutywa, near Butterworth, Eastern Cape, have been struggling to access healthcare. The mobile clinic stopped coming five years ago, say residents; four years ago, says the ward councillor. The roads are so poor, ambulances won’t come. The nearest clinic is Nqabarha clinic, about 8km or two hours walk away, too far for many. It is also hazardous, as they have to cross a river, which is not possible when it rains. As a result, people miss their clinic dates and struggle to get their chronic medication. The village also has many elderly people.

People have to get up at 3am if they want to be assisted the same day. The clinic serves 32 villages and closes in the afternoon.

Villagers told GroundUp they have been begging the Eastern Cape Health Department for a mobile clinic, but were told to find a place for it first. So the villagers decided to build their own clinic. Each house donated R100 to buy zinc sheets. Those who had old window frames were asked to donate them. Two men volunteered to build the structure.

Community member Malixole Klaas said it wasn’t easy to scrape together the funds, as most people in this village are unemployed and live off child support grants.

“As community members we have been trying to get answers on why the mobile clinic no longer visits the area, but we have been getting different answers,” said Klaas.

The mobile clinic used to operate from a house in the village, but the owner has since moved back into the house.

Sivuyile Guzu said, “By building this shack we are hoping that we a mobile clinic which will come more often and that will help the children who need immunisations and those who are wheelchair bound.”

Ward 12 Councillor Mninawa Peter said he is working with the health department to find a suitable solution.

Asked if he would assist residents to finish building the shack, Peter said the mobile clinic would not use it.

“I’m currently looking if we can find a house that we can use as a mobile clinic. Once that is done, I will have a meeting with the health department so we can arrange for the mobile clinic to return,” he said.

But residents say the shack is the best solution as it belongs to the community.

Provincial health department spokesperson Siyanda Manana said, “There’s a planned action to have a professional nurse to operate a mobile clinic at Nquthu and Xabajiyani area. The department is planning to have a meeting with the community to discuss the action plan.”

Asked why the mobile clinic had stopped visiting the village he said that during “the [Covid-19] lockdown it was not operating”.

GroundUp could not get an explanation as to why the mobile clinic stopped operating during a pandemic.