A 14-year-old boy cannot go to school because there is no-one else to look after his 85-year-old disabled grandmother. Their shack is one of the smallest and most dilapidated in one of Bloemfontein’s newest and poorest squatter areas.
The boy must even assist the old woman when she needs to use the toilet. In between seeing to this and the rest of her personal care, he runs the tiny household — washing and scrubbing whatever needs to be cleaned in a small plastic tub outside.
Sometimes the bedridden grandmother calls him inside to fetch her things, like a threadbare old briefcase containing yellowed photos and documentation of her young life.
Her regular calls for assistance do not once extract a murmur of protest from the teenager. He obediently performs every menial task required of him.
One essential record is missing from her briefcase — an identity document. This is why the illiterate grandmother has never received a state pension. ”I lost my ‘dompas’, that is the problem,” she explains, referring to the identity document she was required to carry under apartheid.
This is also the reason they live off donated food, either from welfare workers or the occasional good-hearted neighbour. ”But we know all too well what it is to be hungry,” the grandmother says.
She longs for a ”Russian”, the fatty, spicy take-away treat. The only visible food on the makeshift shelves lining one wall is a lone, greenish potato.
The grandmother also wants the boy, who says he earlier passed grade five, to return to school, but their circumstances make that impossible.
”I want him to go and learn the ABC, but what can we do? I cannot stay on my own during the day. We have only each other, there is no other family or friends.”
The boy has already decided which school he wants to attend. Fauna, he says, naming a school in a traditionally white residential area in town.
The chance of his dream coming true rose substantially over the past weekend, when he caught the eye of South Africa’s most celebrated grandfather.
The boy attended the annual children’s celebration hosted by the Nelson Mandela Children’s Foundation. He was one of several children introduced to Madiba at the party.
An aide briefly informed the former president about how the boy was looking after his grandmother. Madiba called him back, opened his purse and gave the boy all the R100 notes in it, totalling R500.
When asked this week about the gift, the boy smiled shyly, saying it is being kept for him by Free State MEC for welfare Beatrice Marshoff.
He would like to buy a bicycle with the money so that he can cycle to school every day, he said.
And why was that so important to him? So that he can learn to become a social worker, the boy answered.
His grandmother just smiled and shook her head. – Sapa