Opinion Piece

Refiloe Nt’sekhe: We need to be the voice of the most vulnerable

Social development is an important part of the service of government but often those in most need of assistance are not receiving it.

Last week, I visited five homes in Tembisa and I strongly believe that people must get to know and understand how difficult life is for their fellow South Africans.

At the first house, I visited Qolani, a 20-year-old mentally disabled young man. His mother struggles to look after him because from time to time he has violent outbursts and attacks or beats her. When we arrived, he was sleeping in a room in the back. He finally emerged and was excited to see me and my colleagues. He was chewing gum. My colleague asked him if he had stopped drinking and he said yes. The concern that I have is that the violent outbursts are sporadic and on the day that we visited, he was mellow; very respectful and had a quiet demeanour about him. What happens on the days when he becomes violent – his mother lives with this constant fear?

Next I visited the house of Ouma Lina. She is 78 and desperately needs to be placed in a home for elderly people. One of her legs has been amputated while the other is deformed so she is unable to walk. She owns the house but lives with her grandson Oupa: I take my hat off to this young man. He provides his grandmother with round-the-clock care – bathing her every day, taking her to the toilet and cooking for her, making her bed and washing her laundry. Oupa supplements his grandmother’s grant – which is the only source of family income – by washing the neighbours’ cars for R20 per car. However, he works in very close proximity to the house in case she needs him. Oupa clearly loves his grandmother. When I asked him about work he said that he couldn’t even look for work because his grandmother needs him. Two hours travelling time is too much time away from home – he never wants to have his grandmother embarrassed because she soiled herself because he was not there to take her to the toilet in time.

At the third house, I visited Mzoxolo, a 23-year-old young man living with severe down syndrome. His mother desperately wants him to go to school so that he can learn some life skills like taking himself to the toilet; he is also not able to walk. Although Mzoxolo's mother is the right age to receive a much needed old-age grant, her birth year was incorrectly captured on her identity document and now reflects her age as younger than she actually is.

At house number four, I was met with a very traumatic situation. A 65-year- old lady living with her 45-year-old son – both suffering from mental disabilities. The woman's daughter lives in one of the neighbouring houses with her boyfriend. The woman's house has furniture but appliances and items such as pots and knives have been removed. I listened to the neighbour who assists with caring for the woman; she is sometimes violent and on several occasions has thrown anything she could find at her or the daughter. The daughter then took everything to her boyfriend’s house. She cooks for the family there and brings food in plastic containers for her mother and brother.

During my visit, the elderly lady complained about how the dogs in the neighbourhood make a noise in the middle of the night and unable to sleep, she then stands by the kitchen window and stares outside. But as we left the home, the daughter told me that the real reason for her mother's lack of sleep was that when her brother wants to have sex, he sleeps with their mother so she is scared to sleep in her room. It is also the reason the daughter has moved in with her boyfriend.

The woman and her son both desperately need assistance. She would probably be better off in a home and he needs to be admitted to a facility that looks after mentally disabled people so that he is no longer a danger to himself and to his family, especially his mother.

My last visit was to a home that for me illustrates how children are lost in the system. Here, two children are living with relatives following either the death of their parents or their unexplained absence. The husband and wife couple who have taken the kids in are unemployed. The first child gets a child grant and was supposed to receive a foster care grant as well. The second child has no identity documents. She is about 12 years old and her mother died when she was seven years old. Her guardian is her late mother’s sister. No one knows who her father is. She is in Grade 7 and does not have a birth certificate, and a surname – she is just known as Raina. Her new mother is worried that without a birth certificate, Raina will not be admitted to high school or be able to apply for a child grant.

On my way home, I was stopped by ladies in the community who have come to know me. They invited me to visit an old lady of about 80 years old – living in a shack that looks like it could collapse; it is built from thin wooden planks that leak when it rains and she is very frail and suffers from bone tuberculosis.

It hurts me that social workers have not helped with these situations. Their situations are desperate. I try to help but working as an opposition MPL puts me at the mercy of ANC politicians and officials to assist community members who so desperately need help. For me not everything is a political matter but rather a matter of helping fellow South Africans. DM

Refiloe Ntsekhe is DA Shadow MEC for Social Development in Gauteng

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