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COVID-19 struggles highlighted as Lesotho man starves to death in Lenasia

Community leader Nkosinathi Buthelezi said the COVID-19 pandemic had hit the Waterworks informal settlement near Lenasia hard.

Aerial view of the queue of residents of an informal settlement waiting to receive their food parcels on 20 May.

JOHANNESBURG - Residents of the Waterworks informal settlement near Lenasia were reeling on Sunday following the death of a man in their community, allegedly from hunger.

Thabiso Mokhele dropped dead in his shack after going without food for days, and community leaders found his emaciated body. Mokhele was apparently from Lesotho but he had no identity documents on him because he handed them over to an unknown previous landlord who he owed money to.

Community leaders said that many of the residents of Waterworks, which had about 3,600 informal dwellings, were foreign nationals and they are struggling.

Residents of Waterworks, who come from Lesotho, said that they knew that Mokhele was from the mountain kingdom. His father was told that he was not well but he apparently refused to take responsibility. Mokhele’s known relative - his late mother’s brother - in Soweto said that he could not help him.

Fihliwe Lembede, who's from Zola Soweto, saw him days before he died.

Lembede said that her family knew Mokhele’s mother and they were helping him with food, but it was a long distance for him to walk from his shack in Waterworks.

She said that when they saw him last weekend, he was already looking frail and they were called when he was found dead in his shack.

“When I saw him lying there he was pale and even his ribs were showing, so you see that this person, there was no one who was willing to give him food and if it wasn’t us, he couldn’t get food anywhere,” Lembede said.

Residents of the informal settlement said that they were struggling to raise the R7,000 to bury Mokhele.

When police said that they couldn’t take him to a government mortuary, an undertaker agreed to help but needed to be paid for the casket and the burial.

Community leader Nkosinathi Buthelezi said the COVID-19 pandemic had hit the community hard.

“We have almost 3,600 shacks and most of the people staying there are struggling. We have engaged Ya Rona and they provide food parcels but it’s not enough because sometimes they only give us 600,” Buthelezi said.

Buthelezi said that even with the help they would get, they could only bury Mokhele in South Africa and could not repatriate him to Lesotho.

Lembede also said that Mokhele’s uncle refused to help, and a neighbour from Lesotho said that he had tried to call his father in that country but he too said that Mokhele had left with his mother, so he would not take any responsibility.

“One guy saw Thabiso before he died and approached him and he told him that he knows his father, so he called his father to tell him that he is not feeling well, but his father said Thabiso decided to go with his mother so he doesn’t want to hear anything about Thabiso,” Lembede said.

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