Villagers from amaRharhabe Royal Mngqesha Great Place outside King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape are up in arms after hearing that the provincial government may be considering a site in their village as a potential Covid-19 quarantine venue.
The village, which is under the rule of Queen Regent Noloyiso Sandile, includes Ubukhosi Village, which has been a tourist attraction for over a decade.
It is here where the late amaRharhabe King Maxhoba Sandile is buried.
The site, which consists of the royal home, has over 10 traditionally thatched chalets and a conference centre. Weddings and other events have been hosted at the facility, which was initially built to help uplift needy families through skills development and job creation.
When villagers heard that the province was considering the facility as a possible quarantine site, they called an urgent meeting with the community committee on Monday.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize was expected to visit the village on Tuesday afternoon as part of the Eastern Cape leg of his awareness campaign.
Provincial health department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo told News24 that the minister’s initial plan was to visit Nqadu. He said that the issue of visiting Mngqesha was only suggested on Monday but was later abandoned.
As part of his visit to the Eastern Cape, the minister will also head to the East London Correctional Centre following a Covid-19 outbreak at the facility.
According to the justice department, 56 inmates and 30 officials at the facility tested positive for the deadly novel coronavirus.
Another official tested positive at St Albans Correctional Centre in Port Elizabeth, bringing the total number of officials who have contracted the virus in the province to 31.
Villagers questioning why
Committee chairperson Mtati Gwangqana told News24 villagers from amaRharhabe Royal Mngqesha Great Place were disgruntled after they heard that the Queen Regent had offered Ubukhosi Village as a potential quarantine site.
“As the residents of the village, we heard the president’s call, asking people to stay in their homes and that no one can move from one place to another, which is why we are now questioning why those particular people could be moved from one place to our village,” the chairperson said.
He said the “rumours” had spread throughout the village, as well as neighbouring areas, and the villagers were now worried about their health.
After hearing of the rumours, the committee called an urgent meeting with the royal council.
“Because people had already heard what would be happening, they attended that particular meeting in numbers.
“But the police allowed only 10 people at the gathering because of the lockdown regulations, which don’t allow large gatherings. The council could not thoroughly explain to us, which is why we heard that the likes of the minister would be coming here,” the chairperson said.
The committee was expected to hold another meeting on Tuesday. He said they were waiting for clarity on the issue.
Site was a suggestion
Royal council deputy chairperson Nkosi Jali told News24 after realising that government needed quarantine sites, the Queen Regent raised her hand and said that Ubukhosi Village had potential.
Jali said the site was only a suggestion and nothing had been put on paper. He added that various provincial leaders had viewed the site but nothing was agreed upon.
“There was no agreement and we were waiting for MEC to still meet with their structures, as well as national (sic). We indeed met with the village committee and explained to them that there is nothing on paper and we are waiting for government because this was just a suggestion from the Queen,” the Jali said.
News24 has also sent questions to the provincial public works department, which is believed to be at the forefront of getting quarantine sites, asking about the possibility of the village being used. Once the department’s response is received, it will be added.
Call for calm
The provincial health department’s Kupelo said the province had appealed for calm in communities as the government attempted to flatten the Covid-19 curve.
“This virus has no boundaries, no jurisdiction and no territory. I appeal to everyone to be calm about the situation. We note the concerns raised from all over and the department will do everything to ensure we flatten the curve,” Kupelo said.
He said teams would be sent to villages around the province, including the Mngqesha Great Place, to raise awareness and educate villagers about the virus and screenings.
Screenings were expected to take place in Mngqesha on Thursday.
On Monday, the health ministry announced that there were 142 new confirmed Covid-19 cases and four deaths in the country, bringing the total number of cases to 3 300 and 58 deaths.
The ministry said 1 055 recoveries had been recorded.
The Eastern Cape was sitting at 310 cases and five deaths.
Minister Mkhize will also visit Port Elizabeth, where he was expected to brief the media later on Tuesday.