LIFE is difficult for twin sisters Bongiwe and Bongekile Mthembu from rural Ohlalwini in Jozini on the outskirts of Zululand.
The Grade 8 pupils at the Bhekindlela High School were born with deformed feet and hands. Each foot has seven toes and each hand six fingers. Their hands appear normal, but their feet are making them the laughing stock of the community.
The girls, aged 15, go about barefoot but their dream is to wear shoes "like every other teenager in the community".
They both have two additional toes on each foot - one smaller toe and an extra big one, which is about three to four centimetres apart from the rest, making it extremely difficult to put on a shoe.
There are also no medical experts at the local clinics to offer advice or support. So every winter they have to endure the harsh cold weather without shoes and the walk to school over hard terrain and stones has resulted in cracked heels and hard skin under their feet.
"Our wish is to wear shoes so that other children will stop laughing at us at school. We would appreciate help from anyone. We are the only people who do not wear shoes in the area because of the way we were born," Bongekile said.
The twins said that if it were impossible to have the extra toes removed, they would love to have special shoes designed for them.
"We can't wear shoes worn by normal people. We need special shoes. But we are not disabled, it's only that we have these extra toes.
"The big toe is a bigger problem because it is a bit separate from the others," Bongiwe said.
The twins leave home at 5am but only reach school at 7.30am because the school is far away and they cannot walk as fast as other pupils.
"We want to become teachers, but this will remain a wish unless someone helps us," they said.
Their widowed mother, Hlaleleni Gxalibashe Mpontshane, said her twins' deformity was a source of great pain.
"I would have liked to buy them shoes. Seeing them go to school barefoot is unbearable," she said.
Mpontshane, 42, always prays for a miracle. She said she has had enough of defending them from other children who poke fun at them.
"They sometime refuse to go to school because other children make disgusting remarks about them. I don't want them to be illiterate like me, so I force them to go to school, knowing exactly what they face daily," she said sobbing.
Mpontshane said when the twins were born at Ngwavuma Hospital, they referred her to Ngwelezane Hospital so that they could be operated on. But each time they were about to go to the theatre they fell ill.
"I ended giving up because I ran out of money for going to Ngwelezane, which is about 200km away."
The six-member family survives on child support grants for the two children.
"I can't afford an operation for them because I am too poor. The important thing for me is to make sure my children have something to eat," Mpontshane said.
The twins still wear a worn-out school uniform they have been wearing for the past two years.