Wed Oct 26 08:03:50 CAT 2016

At '133', she knows no Mandela

By unknown | Mar 30, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

She sat on the bare, hard concrete floor like a mummified piece of history.

On first encounter, you sit there, overwhelmed by the experience. After all, you may be sitting in the same room as the world's oldest person.

But at 132 years and going on for 133 in a few months' time, you start to wonder whether someone, somewhere in the family of Moloko Temo didn't get it wrong.

At face value, it defies logic, and almost mocks the science of human longevity.

According to the Guinness World Records, the longest documented lifespan of any individual was Frenchwoman, Jeanne Calment (1875-1997), who met painter Vincent van Gogh when aged 14. She died aged 122 and 114 days.

But despite her clarity of mind, the grand ol' dame of Limpopo, is oblivious to the controversy surrounding her status as possibly the oldest person.

Age has given her immunity from caring whether or not she makes the history books.

She doesn't have to bare her claws to Yone Minagawa, the Japanese woman who holds the title of the world's oldest living person.

At 114 years, she should be trailing her South African rival by 19 years!

Temo's birth certificate, issued by the Department of Home Affairs in 1988, claims she was born in June 1874.

For 55 years now, Temo has not seen the world. Her eyes look like small marbles of dried peach that have been pushed by the hand of time deep into her skull.

Born a peasant, she lived most of her life on a farm and has never seen the inside of a school. She knows where she was born but is not exactly sure of the year. She remembers the name of her husband, but struggles to name all of her six children. Four have since died, long ago.

As the people around her talk over her head, she sits there. A neat but old and fading Seshweshwe dress hangs on her emaciated body over a red sweat shirt.

A maroon, threadbare blanket wraps her tiny frame, snow-white hair juts out from beneath the seams of her yellow Adidas skullcap.

She sits there. Twiddling her fingers and trying to grasp the questions. Then suddenly, like static electricity, she slowly sparks into life.

It starts as a weak laugh, as though amused that her life could interest anyone.

The laugh itself is weak. Her small chest heaves, crackling like the misfiring of a beat-up car engine that has been worked on too many times by bad, backyard mechanics.

A brief pause and she stretches out her hand.

Like a spoilt little girl-child asked to clean her room, she asks for "a bribe" before she can commence the odious task of repeating her life to total strangers.

You get the impression that someone planted the idea in her head.

A R20 note does the trick and she collects her thoughts. She searches for memories; nuggets of a wonderful life locked in the cavities of her ancient skull come out like newspaper clippings yellowing with time.

She was born in a village outside the current town of Bochum in what is now Limpopo province many, many moons ago.

Life was good then, she remembers.

Her family, like many other villagers, survived on a staple diet of pap, morogo (wild spinach), wild berries and fresh cow's milk.

Meat, she says, was something they ate only on special occasions such as weddings and funerals or during the festive season.

Otherwise, the village men would go hunting, and, on good days, brought back kudu, antelope, warthog and other wild animals.

Sometimes though, she became sad when those memories are called back.

She drags them from the archives of her life, and they are painful mementoes she had long ago placed under lock and key in her emotional vaults.

Among these was when someone called the young and strong men in the village "to fight in some war in some foreign lands".

These included both personal and general tragedies that affected her life.

They included the death of her husband and four children.

Others she brushes aside like one would a tragedy that eventually turned to some good, like the great locust epidemic that blackened the skies of her village when she was a young girl.

For weeks, she says, they trapped these insects and braaied them.

"We ate them with pap," she says.

She now doesn't know who Nelson Mandela is and gives you a blank stare when you ask her whether she knows who Thabo Mbeki is.

The car, she says, came with other "white men's things only yesterday", adding that walking long distances in her day may have contributed to her longevity.

Someone had earlier told us the old lady loves her cold drink, Coca-Cola in particular. We sent for a litre from a nearby shop.

Her eyes lit up the room when she was presented with a glass of her favourite drink.

With both puny hands, she struggles to lift the glass to her lips. But she manages her first sip, it is worth the effort.

"Aaaaaugh!" she gasps and licks her lips. "I like it."

Content, her speech becomes slurred and heavy and the eyelids close involuntarily.

Time for her midday beauty sleep.

l To see the video of the event log on to


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