SA's Aids orphans raised on pensions

Hundreds of thousands of grandmothers, some of them in their twilight years and struggling to make ends meet, are getting a second, often dismal turn at motherhood, raising Aids orphans in South Africa.

At 62, Lampho says she broke down in tears every day after her daughter died from Aids three years ago, leaving her to care for her 14-week-old twin girls and six-year-old son.

Lampho was living on a R750 monthly pension and did not have enough milk or food for the children.

About half of South Africa’s 1,1-million orphans are being raised by their grandparents, mostly grandmothers like those in Johannesburg’s sprawling township of Soweto where the Red Cross has set up offices to help them.

“Sometimes I feel ashamed because I come back every week, for the food,” says Christine, who at 47, began to raise her daughter’s three children after she succumbed to Aids two years ago.

“There is no work and I couldn’t work with Simphiwe,” her daughter’s three-year-old son who has recently begun anti-retroviral treatment.

The International Federation of the Red Cross last week launched a campaign to help Aids orphans in Southern Africa who are expected to double in number by 2010 from their current legion of 4,13-million.

“A silent tsunami is wiping away an entire generation, leaving millions of children at risk,” said ICRC representative in Southern Africa Francoise Le Goff in launching the effort to provide shelter, health care, education, food and clothes to children orphaned by the Aids pandemic.

With Simphiwe bundled on her back, Christine explained that her husband and the rest of her family turned their backs on her when a row broke out over the custody of the three grandchildren, now aged 14, 13 and three.

Christine was forced to move out of the family home and has since broken ties with her siblings.

“It is difficult. I am afraid for the children,” she says, explaining that she has become aware of the huge responsibility she bears as the sole care giver for the three children.

In Soweto, Red Cross volunteers have begun to grow a vegetable garden to help the poor and those affected by Aids including the grandmothers who they also see as victims of tough economic times in South Africa, where high unemployment is also tugging at the family fibre.

The volunteers that go door-to-door in Soweto to try to find those in need stumbled on Lampho who was struggling to take care of her grandchildren.

After losing one of her grand-daughters to Aids, Lampho found out that the second girl was HIV negative, a result that was greeted as nothing less than a miracle.

“I will never forget this ordeal,” says Lampho, before planting a tender kiss on her grand-daughter Sibongile’s tresses.-Sapa-AFP

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