Uncaring councillors should hang their heads in shame

Bruce Fraser

Bruce Fraser

These past few months I've been travelling to far-flung places around the country.

From the lush Cape winelands of Stellenbosch to the sub-tropical valleys of Venda. From the scorched plains of Limpopo to the hustle-and-bustle of Little Lagos in downtown Jozi - it's been an experience and a half.

At times it has been gut-wrenching: watching 350 children, many of them orphans, sing and dance for us at Sedikong sa Lerato Primary School, in Tooseng, Limpopo.

At other times it was soul-inspiring: listening to grade 11 and 12 pupils taking part in a Young Communicators competition. Their knowledge of their subjects, and the articulate way in which they spoke about them, was uplifting.

Along the way I've met an array of people - from the rich to the dirt poor, from the famous to the infamous.

Take, for example, Bishop Kevin Dowling, the head of the Tapologo Aids Hospice, near Rustenburg, in North West.

This quiet, humble man has committed his life to those afflicted with HIV-Aids and serves his community selflessly, unlike the many who simply turn their backs on the less fortunate.

Having incurred the wrath of the Vatican for his stance on condoms in the battle against Aids, Dowling continues to preach what he believes in - the right of all people to be treated with respect and dignity.

From that relic of the past, Eugene Terre'Blanche, to the no-nonsense, shoot-from-the-hip Gauteng education MEC Angie Motshekga, it has been an eye-opener.

During my travels I've been exposed to the hardships many in this country have to endure.

From rural communities starved of basic human necessities such as water, electricity and food, to villages that are being decimated by the Aids pandemic.

Child-headed households are the norm in many communities and the full consequences of this sad situation are yet to be felt.

Robbed of their childhood, we now have a generation of 13 to 15-year-olds having to take on adult responsibilities and make adult decisions, for which they are not equipped. How can this be fair on those so young?

But nothing could prepare me for Pontso Disability Centre in Khureng village, about 100km west of Polokwane.

After travelling down a dusty dirt road on which cattle have the right of way, and getting lost more times than we care to remember, my colleague, Lindi Obose (aka Mama Angel), and I came across this home for disabled children.

The four-roomed house, if I can call it that, provides a roof for 35 children and eight caregivers. The walls show severe structural damage. There is no ceiling, the floors are bare and there are no cooking facilities.

Electrical wiring is held together with tape and dangles dangerously low. Blankets and beds are but a dream. And this is what they call home.

''The children sleep on the floor. There are no beds, only mattresses. I hope someone will hear our cry for help,'' pleaded an emotional Sinah Chauke, a caregiver.

"Many parents cannot afford school fees for their children and the little money we do receive goes towards basic food and fire wood so we can cook.

"We get wood delivered every two months, which costs us R1200,'' she said.

While we were at the home, four ward councillors arrived. Supposedly representing the people in the area, they explained that the poor living conditions at the home were the result of people not paying for services. When it was pointed out that there were no services, they simply shrugged their shoulders.

They should hang their heads in shame at the conditions these youngsters are forced to live in.

In a society often obsessed with wealth and material possessions, it is important that we spare a thought for those whose lives are a constant grind.

Things we often take for granted - a radio, a TV, a fridge, a stove - simply don't exist in their lives; they are a dream. A dream that does not look like it will come true.

Driving back to the comfort of our hotel, Lindi and I sat in silence as what we had experienced sank in and our hearts went out to those suffering such hardships.

As I stood under a hot shower that evening, the soapy water washed away the red dust and soil of Limpopo. Unfortunately, the vision of those poor kids will not wash away so easily.

lTo see a video clip of Pontso Disability Centre, log on to www.sowetan.co.za