Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Child of the wild still spurns life as a human

A boy found in the wild 10 years ago and placed in care still behaves like a monkey, writes Wonder Hlongwa

It has been a decade since a five-year-old boy suspected of living with monkeys was discovered in Sundumbili in KwaZulu-Natal. He has been in professional care ever since, but still behaves more like a primate than a human.

In 1987, a bedraggled boy aged about five was discovered by Sundumbili residents, showing strange, animal-like behaviour. He liked climbing trees and on to rooftops. He loved fruit, especially bananas.

He was taken to the nearest police station and then put in the care of the Ethel Mthiyane Special School for the disabled. He was named Saturday, because he was found on that day, and has not been given a Christian name.

“He was very violent during his first days here. He used to break things in the kitchen, get in and out through windows. He didn’t play with other kids and instead he used to beat them. He liked uncooked red meat. He used to steal from the fridge – even now he still steals meat,” said Ethel Mthiyane, founder and head of the special school.

When she first took him to the hospital, staff insisted he needed a surname and she gave him hers, Mthiyane.

He was found near the Tugela River, after being spotted roaming with monkeys and scavenging fruit thrown away by hawkers. Psychologists say he is mentally retarded, but Mthiyane thinks he is not – he has yet to recover from his experience in the bush with the monkeys.

Today, his behaviour is still strange. When he was offered fruit, he took one bite from an orange and then threw it aside. Then he grabbed a peach, took a bite and threw it down. Later he picked them up and finished them. But bananas are still his favourite.

Mthiyane says he used to run using both his legs and arms, like a monkey. One leg was broken when he was found, and he walks with a limp.

But Saturday still can’t utter a word and numerous attempts to get him a speech therapist have not been successful. Mthiyane said he can understand what she tells him, though he never responds.

His lessons at the school have included how to bath, comb his hair, dress and play, which he didn’t do when he arrived. Interestingly, Saturday has not been sick since he was brought to the centre and Mthiyane says she thinks he is immune to natural diseases.

“When he came to the centre, he didn’t like blankets. He wanted to sleep naked and he hated clothing, but now he has improved. He accepts clothes and takes a bath,” said Mthiyane.

When the Mail & Guardian visited the centre, Saturday climbed into the car through an open window and sat inside, later to be joined by his only friend, Thulani.

He was nearly run over when we left, but fortunately one of the workers at the centre spotted him hiding under the car seconds before it rode over him. He was very possessive and stubborn. He refused to share his fruit, especially the bananas, with his teachers and Mthiyane, and absolutely wouldn’t give the other children any.

When he first arrived at the centre, though, he used to toss food into his mouth and dig holes in the ground with his bare hands. Staff at the centre are convinced that Saturday lived with monkeys.

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Related stories


Subscribers only

‘People feel they have a stake in SAA’ — Gidon...

Interest in the beleaguered national carrier, which has received billions of rands in public funding, means criticism is inevitable

Soweto teacher dismissed for the alleged repeated rape of a...

The learner was 13 when the alleged rapes started, and they continued for two years until she asked to be moved to another school

More top stories

Eskom to take over distribution, billing at troubled Free State...

The Maluti-a-Phofung local municipality owes the power utility more than R5-billion

WATCH IT LIVE: Ramaphosa addresses the nation

The president will give an update on developments in South Africa's response to the Covid-19 pandemic

ANC committed to paying staff salaries, but employees are not...

ANC staffers picketed outside Luthuli House on Tuesday after months of problems with salary payments

Kanalelo Boloetsi: Taking on Lesotho’s cellphone giants, and winning

A man who took on cellphone data regulators over out-of-bundle rates is featured in this edition of a series on human rights defenders in the SADC region

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…