Grant us our daily bread...

2009-09-05 10:39

AS the sun sets over the informal settlement of

Finetown, west of Johannesburg, Constance Mseleku (not her real name) calls out

to her three younger brothers playing football outside. “Wozani nizogeza”, she

summons them for their bath.

Sheepishly, Sipho (3), Thabo (5) and Thabiso (6) make their way

into the crooked one-roomed shack. Shoeless and shirtless, Sipho pulls down his

tight pants and starts scratching the blisters that dot his body like


Inside their dwelling, wallpaper is peeling off, door handles are

­missing, the floor is dirty and the unmade bed is heaped with a tangle of

sheets, blankets and clothes.

Mseleku (12) sits on a red plastic chair, her mouth grim and

unyielding. She is one of the orphans forced to head households due to the

ravages of HIV/Aids.

Her father died of an Aids-related illness last year and her mother

followed three months later, leaving all four of them with her new boyfriend who

is now in jail pending a rape case.

“He raped me, and now his brothers are threatening to kill me. They

say if I don’t drop the charges they will kill me,” says the 12-year-old while

drying her little brother’s spotted body with a worn face cloth.

The pre-teen tasked with taking care of her siblings cannot read or

write and her future seems defined by her plight. Yet she goes about the task of

being head of the house with grim determination.

“Food, clothing and money are scarce and at times we go to sleep on

empty stomachs,” she says.

To survive they all forage at a nearby dump site or beg at a

traffic interchange in Lenasia or get food from good Samaritans.

A recent report by the Joint Learning Initiative on Children and

HIV/Aids, summarising data from two years of research and analysis, indicates

that children living in households with a female pensioner who receives an

old-age grant show significant school attendance. This is because the old-age

grant of R1?010 a month is significantly higher than the R240 child-support

grant paid to a primary care giver.

The report also says families that are economically vulnerable due

to HIV/Aids are unable to compensate for lost income and are less able to meet

the direct and hidden costs of healthcare, including additional food, medicines

and transport.

Minister of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities

Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya says the report’s findings dispel the previously held

belief that government support grants did not benefit children or were used for

other things.

“We welcome the view expressed in the report that these grants

should continue as they provide an urgently needed relief to children and

families that are living in conditions of abject poverty.”

Professor Linda Richter of the Human Sciences Research Council, a

contributor to the report, says more generations in sub-Saharan Africa will grow

up with HIV/Aids as part of the context of their daily lives.

Meanwhile, the South African Institute of Race Relations data

indicate that the number of child-headed households has grown by 25% – from

118?000 in 2002 to 148?000 in 2007.

As she prepares a supper of dry bread and water, Mseleku adds that

she is not aware of any financial help offered by the state. “Next week I will

go and speak to a social worker. Maybe we can get a social grant that can help

ease the burden.”

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