The people of Babanango, a far-flung rural town in the Zululand district municipality in northern KwaZulu-Natal, say the shortage of healthcare facilities, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, impacts negatively on their lives.

Babanango is a small town about 60 kilometres north-west of Melmoth and has a population of just over 10 000. Established in 1904, the place had little or no development since the apartheid days.

The town is situated 60 kilometres away from Ulundi where the locals get services. Buildings in the town are crumbling. There is one supermarket, no Home Affairs office, no clinics nor any other health facility. Bhekinkosi Mbatha (65) is a senior citizen in the area.

Mbatha says the status of the town has remained unchanged since the 80s. He says there are no resources, no job opportunities and no healthcare facilities and people die in large numbers.

“We have nothing, we have tried several times to get help but nothing has been done. There is no hospital and no clinic, no home affairs to get supporting documents. If you need home affairs we have to go to Nquthu or Ulundi but you come back the following day as there are long queues. We are neglected.”

Mbatha insists that the lack of healthcare facilities in the area contributes to the high number of people who die from the pandemic.

“If you sick, you need to borrow money and go to the doctor but unfortunately from here to the clinic is more than 20 km. It is difficult for women to get ambulances to give birth because the area is isolated and neglected. COVID -9 has killed many people in the area because there are no health facilities, no ambulances.”

Local councillor, Mkhawuleni Buthelezi, concurs that the shortage of health facilities impacts negatively on local residents.

“People have became nurses and people die every day but there is no help. This week we have buried eight people, let alone the whole ward but only this area. For example, the Buthelezi family was staying with a child, mother went to the hospital and she died, the child and the father are also sick and both have been hospitalised.”

Mandla Ngubane, a local youth council member, believes the area needs its own municipality to effectively serve local people.

“Here at Babanango we need to have our own municipality because if need services we have to travel to Ulundi, which is far from here. The youth does not get financial support, and we don’t know why and there is a stumbling block here.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom at Babanango. To revive the local economy and create job opportunities – the Babanango Ilimo Farming Co-operative has taken it upon itself to employ local youths.

Mandla Manzini elaborates: “We establish this project because we want to create job opportunities for ourselves and for the local people. We are going to employ thirty permanent people as we speak. This project is going to be sustainable and even contributes to local economic development in the area as agriculture is the only tool that equips and develop the rural economy.”

Responding to the grievances of the community – Zululand District Municipality mayor – Thulasizwe Buthelezi, says the municipality empowers local youth to participate in agricultural activities.

“We really appeal to national government to prioritise the rural towns, for example in Ulundi last week 58 people died in their homes due to COVID but they are not accessing the services. As ZDM has identified that youth are the future and their greatest potential is in agriculture. We have therefore funded this project to ensure that they can employ thirty people.”