Childhood of hardship

MAKHOSI Mchunu, a pupil in Zwelisha outside Estcort in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, collects wood to support herself and her family.

Makhosi and her siblings lost their father 12 years ago and were orphaned when their mother died in April last year.

Though Makhosi must now support the family, she still persists with her Grade 10 studies at Mthombowolwazi High School.

Makhosi, the eldest child and wise beyond her years, can only handle so much. Their three-roomed mud house leaks and is very cold on winter nights.

"Though our father was unemployed, his presence made a difference" she said. When he died 12 years ago, my mother became our sole provider. But things were never easy because she was also unemployed and illiterate.

"On top of that my younger brother Siyabonga, now 13, was born disabled. We survived on his disability grant."

"My mother used to collect Siyabonga's grant. When she died no one else had the right to collect the grant and it was cancelled, forcing me, as the eldest, to make sure we had something to eat."

Makhosi and her younger sister Ningi fell pregnant while their mother was bed-ridden. None of the children's fathers support their babies because they are also unemployed. So Makhosi plays the role of father, mother and aunt to her extended family.

"My mother used to sell wood. So I followed suit. I sell a bunch for R8,50," she said.

Secure the Future, a community-based HIV-Aids care and support group in their area, has helped by arranging for Ningi to attend a training college and found a crèche for the two infants. They also helped Makhosi apply for food parcels from social development, but the food parcels were subsequently stopped.

"I don't know why they stopped providing us with food parcels. We don't have anything to eat. Life is hard for us," Makhosi said.

"I have been battling to get an identity document because if I had one I would register for a child support grant for my child and my niece. This would make a big difference."

Phumelele Majola, a field worker who helped the orphans, said social workers told her the children had to reapply for the food parcels every three months.

"We will help them reapply but the problem is what will they eat while we are busy with their application. It would have been better if the department had a way of dealing with cases like this," Majola said.