Long distance to the shops a nightmare for Msinga residents


In Msinga, KwaZulu-Natal, many locals have grown accustomed to walking long distances or swimming across a river to get to access shops. The alternative is not much better: travelling on the back of a packed bakkie.


KWAZULU-NATAL - Poverty in South Africa is often inextricably linked to dangerous living conditions.

In Msinga, KwaZulu-Natal, many have grown accustomed to walking long distances or swimming across a river to get to the shops.

But there's another necessary evil  for most, the only alternative to getting to town on foot, is to travel on the back of a packed bakkie.

Legislative amendments have made this illegal, but for those desperate to earn a living, there's little choice.

Msinga is a dry, mountainous area with a rich history.

But that's where the wealth ends for most people in this community.

READ: Women, children bear the brunt of poverty in SA

At the Sithole household, there are about 30 mouths to feed.

And that responsibility lies with Mantombi Sithole - she's the only one lucky enough to have an income.

She's a vendor at the nearest town.

 "It's not nice anymore. I used to walk, and even now I still walk, but it's hard, walking down until you get to the other side to get to the transport," said Mantombi Sithole, Msinga Resident 

But she won't be catching a taxi - drivers don't operate on these rocky roads.

"By the time I get to the shop, I feel tired because the sun burns me. I am diabetic. Diabetics don't cope in heat and cold," she said 

But walking closer to town has just saved her R7 - that could make a big difference at supper time.

"They don't load the vans the correct way. They overload them. So much so, if it was to stop here - it stopped here the time it threw us over the side. It rolled backwards until it crashed there. The van crushed my leg. By God's grace, my bones didn't break. Until now, we're still using those vans. When we tell them to get taxis for us, they say the vehicles will get damaged," said Sithole. 

On a good day, only ten people - eager to access the few economic opportunities in the village - squeeze in.

"It's not right to travel like this, with people and their luggage together because at times they load crates and then when you crash these bottles break on you." 

"We travel by bakkie on dangerous roads. People have died. Some have braces on their bodies, some have no teeth, others have hurt their mouths, some are walking with crutches."

This time, Sithole makes the trip without incident - but her day is only just starting.

This is her livelihood, selling small items to ensure she doesn't return to her family empty-handed.

Although a recent National Road Traffic Act amendment makes it illegal to transport passengers in the back of a bakkie for reward, there aren't many options for Msinga residents. Walk along these seemingly endless roads - or compromise both your safety and dignity. 

The so-called bakkie-taxis have a history of accidents - even the owners acknowledge they're death traps.

"There is danger because some of the vans don't have canopies. When it's loaded the people sit with their goods. We also don't like that so we're trying to move away from vans but the road is the problem," said Sibusiso Chonco, Bakkie Taxi Operator.

The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport was unavailable for comment.

But it's previously said it's prioritising rural roads to ensure locals travel more safely.

While that promise could mean change for future generations,

Sithole will continue to risk her life six days a week.

"I'll only rest when I die, because there is no way my children's children will go hungry while I'm still alive. Until I die, I won't rest," said Sithole.