Mother in waiting

By Drum Digital
01 December 2010

THE teenager walks into the high-care neonatal ward of the Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital in Soweto, briefly greeting the nurses before heading directly to a crib in the centre of the room where two tiny, fluffyhaired babies lie sleeping soundly.

At first glance she could be their big sister but then her tummy gives her away. This girl has clearly just given birth – and the babies she delivered have been making headlines. Twins Reamogetse and Tirayaone are joined at the chest and stomach and their mom, who had them a week short of her 16th birthday, is believed to be the youngest mother of conjoined twins in the world.

Nonofo Radibe was dischargedaweek after giving birth and went to live in Jouberton, Krugersdorp, with her aunt, Puseletso, who will look after her while her sister Rosemary Radibe (32) is at work. Rosemary became the legal guardian to Nonofo and her siblings when their mother passed away due to an undisclosed illness in 2000.

This is only the second time Nonofo has seen her daughters since being discharged. The family home is some 200 kilometres away and it costs R500 to get to the hospital and back by taxi.

Moments earlier Nonofo, who is in Grade 11, was playing with her three-year-old nephew in the corridor. Now she stares in silence at her babies. Our photographer, taking the first pictures of the young mom with her daughters, asks her to touch her children but she shakes her head.

“I’m too emotional,” she mumbles under her breath in Setswana.

She turns to a nurse who has placed a blanket over the little bodies and asks her how they’re doing. “Very well,” the nurse responds with a friendly smile.

Doctors are, in fact, confident that surgery to separate them will be successful. Although they share a liver they each have a heart and their chances of living a normal life are good. We try to talk to Nonofo about the babies but she seems to be in a state of shock and we retreat to the corridor and chat to Rosemary instead.

“My sister is going through a hard time,” she says. “She’s a young mother. I think she just needs space to adjust.” The teen certainly has had it rough lately. Shortly after the twins were born police arrested her boyfriend, Ntsokolo Sekonyela (22), on charges of statutory rape. He was released on free bail after the girl’s family pleaded with police not to lock him up. He’s due back in court soon.

EARLIER in the week DRUM visited the family in Jouberton. Ironically their house is just a stone’s throw from what was the home of another set of conjoined twins, Mpho and Mphonyana Mathibela.

We find Nonofo and Ntsokolo watching cartoons with Puseletso, who they call Nanny. Ntsokolo, a driver for a distribution company, poses for a quick picture and then leaves, saying he’s late for work.

We try to talk to Nonofo about the babies but she just looks at her chipped red nail polish and turns to her sister. “Please give me back the Cutex you took,” she says.

Rosemary, laughing, promises she will and Nonofo goes back to the cartoons.

Quietly, Rosemary starts to tell us of her sister’s pregnancy. She was shocked and disappointed when she found out her sister was expecting, she admits. Nonofo is a bright student and wants to be a pilot – pregnancy was definitely not part of the plan.

Read the full article in DRUM of 9 December 2010

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