Mandela Day kindness changes lives

A 2021 picture of Elizabeth Bunting when the “Independent on Saturday” first reported on her plight. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad African News Agency (ANA)

A 2021 picture of Elizabeth Bunting when the “Independent on Saturday” first reported on her plight. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jul 22, 2023


Elizabeth Bunting is the “fixer” in the wasteland of flats where she lives in Melbourne Court, Congella, often feeding hungry kids before they go to school, or lending bus fare and a sympathetic ear to others in need.

Her kindness in the overcrowded building littered with packets of human waste, prostitution and no running water did not go unnoticed.

This week her life changed dramatically after years of struggling to sleep because of the stench, the noise and water that continuously seeps into her home from the flat above.

A fleeting acquaintance heard about her lot and decided to do something for the woman who always serves others.

The well-doer contracted a plumber to assist Bunting and make her life more comfortable.

Most of the work was done in the flat above Bunting’s, which she says is occupied by two mentally challenged siblings, abandoned by their family.

The task that faced Durban plumber Simphiwe Mgwaba.Picture: SUPPLIED

Durban plumber Simphiwe Mgwaba, who owns the ATLEAST Plumbing and Painting Company, received an astonishing call last week, asking him to fix up Bunting’s flat and make sure she was “all right”. All his costs would be covered; he just needed to do a great job.

Mgwaba said he was deeply moved by the kind act but what he found left him speechless. Despite 15 years in the business, he had never before encountered such sordid living conditions.

“Yoh, it was bad. Everything was broken, everything was leaking. They used the toilet but didn’t flush because there is no running water and it was overflowing with faeces and newspaper,” he said. The water seeping into Bunting’s flat came from the containers the siblings apparently used to wash themselves in one of the rooms, instead of using the communal bathroom outside.

Mgwaba got to work for the next five days; cleaning up the flat, then waterproofing it and replacing the toilet. Once he was done he moved to Bunting’s place and fixed the damage caused by the water leaks and years of neglect. Finally, he painted and the place was transformed.

“I was so happy, I never did something like that for someone before,” he said.

He said Bunting was ecstatic, she couldn’t contain her joy. “Her happiness was in her tears,” Magwaba said.

“For the first time in years I can now sleep without the tap, tap of water dripping and without the smell of pee and poo,” said Bunting.

She also received a “brand-new glossy stove” to replace the one damaged by her living conditions. By yesterday afternoon she had still not used the stove, feeling it was too “posh” for her home.

She said the random act of kindness was unbelievable after years of being let down by the municipality and other authorities who failed to listen to the residents who had been given the title deeds to the former council flats. Many of those people who paid the R600 for the right to own their homes in Melbourne Court had moved out, letting them out to others, who then sublet them as a money-making scheme. In one, up to 17 students or foreigners are living in a tiny three-bedroomed flat.

A grateful Bunting said her mission now was to work with the building’s committee and bring order into their lives. She said security companies, politicians, housing agents and even the Council had promised to help them in the past. In most cases though, they handed over their money in exchange for empty promises.

The Independent on Saturday

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