The nation’s unsung heroes

Grandmothers are the glue that binds many South African communities.

The role they play in caring for abandoned children and in holding families together is beyond measure.

Nellie Adams (56) is one such example. She is raising two children and five grandchildren on a meagre salary as a cleaner in Johannesburg.

Like many other grandmothers in the country, she does not receive grant money from the Department of Social Development, even though she is the primary caregiver of her grandchildren.

”These days it is very, very difficult to buy food to support my family. Sometimes they only eat once a day and cry because they are hungry.

”I am struggling to buy clothes for the little one. When it is cold I feel guilty because the children do not have enough warm clothes and I also don’t have enough blankets.”

Adams does not have all the necessary documentation to apply for a grant.

According to Vuyo Mbele, legal researcher for LegalWise, grandmothers are South Africa’s heroes when it comes to caring for children abandoned by their parents.

LegalWise, the short-term insurer, assists its members who struggle to register for social grant money because they don’t have the necessary information.

In many cases, grandmothers don’t have the birth certificate or even the date of birth of a child, the information required by a primary caregiver to register for social grants.

According to Mbele, mothers often disappear after they have registered for grant money, leaving their children behind with grandmothers.

”It is very important for the money to flow to where the children are,” said Ratula Beukman, advocacy programme manager for the human rights organisation Black Sash.

According to Beukman, the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) is obliged to investigate all cases where mothers disappear, leaving grandchildren with grandmothers.

Beukman says the Black Sash is engaged in human rights education in all provinces to ensure that people are aware of rights such as those of primary caregivers being entitled to social grants.

Mmanyana Nameng, a domestic worker from Kagiso township in Johannesburg, has been taking care of her five grandchildren since their mother passed away in March.

Although she receives grants, her uncertain work environment makes survival a day-to-day struggle.

”I take care of five children all by myself. Their father is alive but he does not support them. The children get government grants and with the little bit that I get from my piece jobs, we manage to survive, but it is very difficult.

”This month, I haven’t had a piece job, which means that for the whole of this month we relied on the children’s grants.”

Nameng says that the children, whose ages range from one to 16, often go to school without breakfast.

”The kids try to understand the situation but kids are kids. They sometimes complain and cry, but what can I do?”

In other cases children find refuge at their grandmothers because of an unbearable home environment.

According to Adelaide Kuani from Princess in Roodepoort, her 83-year-old mother has been the guardian of her brother’s two children since last year.

”My brother and the mother of the children separated. The mother was given custody of the children because they were already receiving grants.”

Kuani says the children hate staying with their mother because she is involved with another man and has recently had another baby.

”The two kids escape from their mother all the time and spend most of their time at my mother’s house. My mother is too weak to help them and her pension money is not enough.”

Whenever Kuani goes home to Mafikeng, she says she sometimes finds the kids in the same clothes they were wearing the last time she was at home.

”They are not well cared for and their mother does not care,” she says.

But Kuani is not about to let the children suffer because of their parents’ negligence.

”As soon as I retire, I plan to open up a centre for children in Mafikeng.

”I want to start by taking care of my brother’s children and I hope to make it big with children from around my village.”

According to the Black Sash, there are 8,5-million children in South Africa who rely on child support grants.
Another 2,2-million teenagers between the ages of 15 and 18 live in extreme poverty. They go to bed hungry and go to school without breakfast. They are desperately in need of social grants, Beukman says.

The Black Sash is campaigning for the extension of the child support grant to 18 years.

It is planning to hand over a petition to Finance Minister Trevor Manuel in October when he formulates his medium-term budget policy statement.

A tribute to granny
Zeenande Nzama pays tribute to her grandmother’s love

I was dropped off at my grandmother’s doorstep, sick and weak, at the age of one. My mum was young and not ready to take on any responsibilities, so she left me with my maternal grandmother.

Unfortunately my maternal grandmother could not take care of me either, so my uncle spoke to my paternal grandmother to take me in.

I do not know my mum, my grandmother is the only one who has always been there for me. She gives me all she can.

I was never spoiled as a child, my gran was always strict, but I grew up satisfied that I got the things that every child needs.

Special days in my life do not go unnoticed, she always does something to make it extra special, new clothes every Christmas and a cake on my birthday.

One of the greatest things my grandmother did for me was to put me through university. With the little money she had, she wanted me to study.

She never complained if I did not do well, she saw the bigger picture — she wanted me to succeed.
My grandmother is the strongest woman I know.

I see how she raised my father and uncle to be the men they are today, all on her own.

She has helped me learn that I can do anything in life — I do not need a man to achieve success. — Nosimilo Ndlovu

  • Nzama (22) is a young woman from Mpumalanga. She is doing her honours in dramatic arts at the University of the Witwatersrand.
  • Additional reporting by Monako Dibetle

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