Zephanias Mathe's troubles seemed to be worsening as the day of his son's sentencing drew ever closer.

Mathe, 82, is the father of convicted robber, rapist and escape artist Ananias Mathe.

Sowetan met Mathe at the Alexandra taxi rank where he works as a car washer and messenger. Taxi drivers have so much confidence in him they send him to deposit their money at banks.

At the rank he is popularly known as Karapau, a popular fish in Mozambique. We meet him to take him back to his home village of Chicumbane, near Xai-Xai, in southern Mozambique.

The only thing Mathe takes for the trip is his Mozambican passport. He rarely smiles and the soft-spoken frail man sits quietly in the car as we head for his home to visit his family.

"I came to South Africa in 1957 and I worked in the mines. At that time there were no taxis," he tells us.

Mathe spent more than four decades working in the mines to feed his 11 children. But his hard work has come to naught.

All his children, except Ananias and his brother Nitu, have died, but he won't say how. Now he must take care of 11 grandchildren, seven fathered by Ananias with three wives.

"He was a smart child. He did well in maths at school," Mathe says about Ananias.

"I don't understand why you people say he raped women. My son had three wives," Mathe says with a cough.

He refuses to eat when we take breaks.

"I can't eat, my spirit is down."

We manage to convince him to drink a sip of juice.

"I want to take all the 11 children and give them to (former correctional service minister) Ngconde Balfour. Who is going to take care of these kids if Ananias remains in jail?" the old man asks.

Mathe remained alert throughout our 13-hour-trip to Chicumbane. We arrive at midnight, he takes the goodies we bought the children and softly says "obrigado" (thanks) as he gets out of the car.

The next morning we meet the entire family, Ananias's wife Filista, his mother Safira, and the children, who all sit on grass mats with sorrow written over their faces.

The homestead is well secured behind a brick wall. Six buildings dot the site, including a hut and an unfinished modern home.

Ananias's room has electricity but the water was cut off after the family failed to pay the bill.

The family cooks outside with wood gathered from the surrounding bush.