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INTENSE HUNGER FOR HOTEL EMPLOYEES

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LOBAMBA - The uncertainty of whether their lives will go back to normal is too much to bear for some hotel employees.
Just like hairdressers, ‘bend and pick’ vendors and bar owners, hotel employees are feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic in their daily livelihood.


The hotel employees are screaming desperation and hunger as they no longer have an income to put food on the table for their families.


This follows that many hotels temporarily closed following the dwindling numbers of people who were making use of their facilities.


This was brought about by the coronavirus outbreak, which also resulted in government enforcing a partial lockdown.


Prominent


Last Friday, two women, who work at one of the prominent lodges in Ezulwini, were caught idling at their homes, nursing their children and harvesting maize so they could at least have a meal for the day.
Being idle and trying to make a plan for the next meal has become a norm for these two women.
As this journalist sat down with them, they immediately said hunger was ‘killing’ them.
Dudu Groening (56), who has worked at a popular lodge for 30 years  as a chef, said life quickly went sour for her after her February leave.


Groening has five children aged between 16 and 30. Two of them are still in school and she is the one paying for them.
“In March, when I got back to work, we were immediately told to stop reporting for work because of the virus and the first thing that came in my mind was my children’s school fees, I had to ask myself how I would manage to pay for their school fees,” said Groening.


Groening has been at home, without receiving any salary as they were told ‘no-work-no-pay’.
When asked if she knew when she could go back to work, she said it had not been communicated to them when they could go back to work - something which brought about a lot of uncertainty.


“It is not our bosses’ fault that we are in this predicament - we understand that this is a global war and this war has brought us nothing, but hunger and apathy towards life in general,” she said.
When questioned if she had a retirement fund or savings which she could tap into during these trying times, she said the only savings she had was with Lidlelantfongeni (Eswatini National Provident Fund). “Sometimes we sleep without food and when we are lucky, we are able to make soup that day,” she said.
According to Groening, their superiors at work said they would contact them on May 31 to give them an update regarding their future with the lodge.


Renting


“While we wait for the said date, some of the employees are renting and they defaulted on their rentals. The struggle is not only against hunger for others, but the fear of finding themselves homeless if this pandemic persists,” she said.
Groening was earning about E2 000 per month and has not been salaried since April.


“The E2 000 may not be sufficient for a comfortable lifestyle, but I was able to make ends meet. I was able to pay school fees for my two children. Waking up each day and going to work is not really about the money sometimes, it is also about keeping sane. Not only are we financially deprived, but our mental health and self-esteem is slowly being weakened by this unplanned circumstance,” she said.


Ntombikhona Simelane (39), a mother to four-month-old twins, said life had always been unkind to her and the COVID-19 pandemic only added to her misery.
Simelane has a total of four children, the firstborn being 20 years old. She said with the money she earned, she was able to feed her family, including the twins.


“When we were told to stop coming to work, I just thought of my twins. They were very young then and babies frequently need food, which they are not getting sufficiently at the moment,” said Simelane. Simelane’s partner also lost his job early this year and this made the financial situation tough for the family.
“There is no income in my household. None at all and this is very hurting because I get to see my children crying due to hunger,” she said.


“As an adult, I can ‘stomach’ such situations, but children do not understand the poverty wave that we are faced with. It is not the children’s duty to understand hunger, but with this situation, they are being exposed to it and this makes me feel helpless,” she said.


Simelane also earned E2 000, which, according to her, made life a bit bearable.
There are over 300 people in Groening and Simelane’s predicament as many hotels and lodges have shut their doors because of the dormant hospitality industry in the country.


Confirmed


Lobamba Indvuna Yenkhundla Bhekisisa Bhembe confirmed that there were about 300 people who had been retrenched from the 15 hotels that were closed in Ezulwini.
“This pandemic is exposing hotels that a lot of their staff were working on a casual basis. Some of the employees of these hotels and lodges had been employed for over three years and were still on contract. They left their jobs with no gratuity. They left with nothing,” said Bhembe.


He also said some of the employees had been evicted by their landlords from their rented houses.
“Rent around Ezulwini and Lobamba starts from E500 and they can barely afford it now,” he said. He pleaded with government to make amendments in the manner in which hotel staff was hired.

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