‘I am a prisoner in my own home’

Sibusiso Zondi has been trapped in his eighth storey flat for nine years because he is a wheelchair user and the lift is broken. His mother’s protest has led to eviction.

Life’s simple pleasures such as going outside to get a glimpse of the sun and a whiff of fresh air have become a luxury for Sibusiso Blessing Zondi, 34, who has cerebral palsy. But it is the Durban man’s indomitable spirit and sharp mind that have carried him through extreme personal challenges that would have defeated a person of lesser mettle.

“By the grace of God, I am able to do some things on my own,” he says, explaining that living with the condition renders him immobile unless he is in a wheelchair or carried around by someone.

Zondi lives with his elderly mother on the eighth floor of a block of flats in Durban’s South Beach. The building’s lift has not been working for almost 10 years, making Zondi feel like a prisoner in his own home. As a result of the broken lift, the Zondis are in a wrangle with the body corporate. In protest over the lack of services, including the broken lift, they stopped paying levies. Now the body corporate is trying to evict them from the building.

Zondi’s 70-year-old mother and sole parent, Zamajali Ngcobo, knows the pain her son is experiencing. A trained nurse, she studied at the Edendale Nursing College in Pietermaritzburg, bagging her first job at the city’s psychiatric hospital, Fort Napier, in 1986.

She worked as a nurse between 1994 and 2001 at St Martins, a school for physically challenged children in Port Shepstone. 

She married Raymond Ngcobo, had children and was widowed in 2007. Her sons, Trevor and Sibusiso, were the children of her second partner, Joseph Zondi, whom she did not marry. 

28 May 2019: Sibusiso Ngcobo next to the out-of-order lift of his apartment building.

Developmental challenges of cerebral palsy

“S’bu was born on 31 January 1985 at Edendale Hospital. When I was pregnant with him, there was nothing different to the other pregnancies I had experienced in the past,” she says.

“But when he arrived, I was shocked that he was still alive because I was induced at six months. The nurses told me that I had given birth to a baby boy and I did not believe them. I thought he had died.”

For six months, Sibusiso was kept in an incubator to monitor his vital organs and his development.

“The doctors had told me that the baby was born with cerebral palsy and that he would not make it past three months, but he did and that is why I named him Sibusiso, which means Blessing: because he was a miracle baby.” 

Related article:

It was only after Sibusiso’s first birthday that she started to see just how the condition affected her baby’s development, from his movements to his muscle coordination.

“He wasn’t developing like all the other children. He was slow. He could not support himself and he struggled to crawl, and it took him long to grab onto things. It is then that I realised that he was different.”

After accepting reality Ngcobo took Sibusiso to Edendale Hospital where she had still been working as a nurse before she gave birth. There, Sibusiso received extensive physiotherapy.

Most toddlers are walking quite confidently by the time they turn two. But Sibusiso was far from this milestone. At two even sitting up straight was a challenge for him.

Better prospects

In 1999, when Sibusiso was a teenager, the family bought a flat in Carillon Court in Durban’s South Beach. The property was ideal for Sibusiso because it was situated close to a gym that offered physiotherapy and the promise of upskilling people living with disabilities.

It was a very encouraging time for Ngcobo because she saw progress in her son’s life. She saw that his confidence was boosted and that the lift in the building gave him a sense of physical independence. 

Unfortunately the family had to move from the apartment because Ngcobo could no longer afford its bond repayments. However, they managed to find a spacious flat in Pugin Court on nearby Ripley Terrace, which was still near the gym.

When they arrived at Pugin Court in late 2008, the lift was working. “It started being faulty in 2010,” says Mrs Ngcobo. “Then in 2011, it stopped working completely. I went to the building manager to explain to him that I was living with a physically challenged family member who depends on the lift and they promised to fix it,” she says.

But nothing was done. 

28 May 2019: An overview of South Beach, where Sibusiso Ngcobo lives.

Ngcobo’s struggle and Sibusiso’s courage

“A lot of things changed when the lift stopped working,” she continues. “Sibusiso can’t go and collect his [disability] grant anymore … and he cannot go to the gym, which was the most important thing in his life. He is basically a prisoner in our own home. He cannot go out to do normal things like everyone else, like going out to see the sun or to push his wheelchair along the promenade at the beach, even just to see people.”

Occasionally Sibusiso’s brother Trevor, who lives in Johannesburg, visits home. Trevor has the stamina to carry Sibubiso up and down the eight flights of stairs in the building.

“Sibusiso went outside last month and before that, it was in December. Before that, it was in June 2018. The longest time he has not gone outside is close to a year, this was in 2017 because it was just the two of us living in the flat,” Sibusiso’s mother recalls.

Ngcobo said she fears being alone with Sibusiso in the flat because sometimes he falls out of the wheelchair. And she cannot lift him easily. “S’bu alone weighs about 100kg.”

Related article:

Ngcobo took early retirement when she turned 50 so that she could look after Sibusiso, and explains how proud she is of her son who is able to bathe himself, climb on and off the bed and can generally take good care of himself without any help.

“Every day we both wake up at 6am and we clean. He mops, sweeps the floor and helps out around the house. The only thing I do not allow him to do is to cook because he might get burnt,” she explains.

Although life is difficult for the family, Sibusiso, who initially did not want to speak to New Frame, says he is grateful to still be alive. “I cannot remember the last time that I went to the gym, the cinema or get myself a pizza and food is my best friend. It is painful but I have stopped complaining about the lift. I have accepted that this is my life.”

About five years ago, Ngcobo decided to stop paying levies for the flat, out of protest, because of a lack of services, in addition to the out-of-service lift.

“Because we live on the top floor, water does not reach our geyser system and that led to our geyser breaking. Water has been leaking from the ceiling since 2010 and when we complained they said that they will fix it but they haven’t. The house is falling apart. It feels like we are living in umjondolo (a shack).”

She showed New Frame where Sibusiso sleeps. The walls of the balcony, which has been made into a bedroom, are cracking. 

Protest and eviction

“I decided [in 2011] to stop paying the R1 600 for services because we were not being serviced,” she explains.

After several years, the family was taken to the Durban High Court for not paying their levies. They lost the case and were ordered to pay an amount of R26 752. Ngcobo defaulted on the judgment and is now being evicted from the property.

Her latest levy statement dated 9 April 2019, states that she currently owes a total of R540 809, which includes legal fees.

“What can I say, there is nothing more I can do, I tried to get help from so many people,” said Ngcobo who will be homeless once she has been evicted and the property is put on auction. 

Related article:

Siyabonga Mohlomi, the director of Mohlomi Asset Management, the company which manages Pugin Court, told New Frame: “Mrs Ngcobo failed to pay levies from 2011 and letters of demand were sent to her to pay levies. By 2018 she owed the body corporate an [accumulated] amount that is [now] more than R400 000. The body corporate made an application to sequestrate her estate because she failed to pay.”

Mohlomi said a court order was granted following which Gonasagree Govender of Mohlomi Assets Management was appointed a trustee of the estate by the Master of the High Court in Durban.

Mohlomi explained that the sequestration process takes place when individuals are unable to pay creditors. “[Mrs Ngcobo] failed to make payment to her creditors and the body corporate then undertook the process of sequestering [sic] her,” adding that the property will either be sold by public auction or private treaty but that all depends on which route the bondholder prefers.

Propell, a company specialising in the sectional title sector, confirmed that the Pugin Court Body Corporate Scheme took action against Ngcobo because she had failed to pay levies for several years.

“If the owner reaches a settlement or repayment agreement with the body corporate, Propell should be informed and the arrangements will be reflected accordingly,” said Propell’s operations manager, Chinelle Hewitt, who did not respond to any further questions.

If you want to republish this article please read our guidelines.