Mandela sent me there

2010-07-21 00:00

IT was 67 minutes that changed my life and Nelson Mandela had something to do with it. When we heard about spending time doing something good, my friends suggested we also do something as friends. We always spend time celebrating each other’s birthdays and making all the excuses just to have a braai but we have never thought about families that would kill to have a meal.

And so we decided to do something useful for someone. I phoned a few institutions in Pietermaritzburg and a friendly woman from SOS Children’s Village said that she could identify families for me who are really struggling. She explained how they have tried to help them, and how they need more people to give them a hand. She told me about France near Pietermaritzburg, which is mostly populated by disadvantaged families, some of whom are classified as sibling-headed or granny-headed. She then told me about a granny-headed family that has nine children all living on the granny’s pension. The children are aged from five to 21 and they live in two RDP houses that the granny rents. We chose to visit them.

As I walked into the house my eyes couldn’t help but wander around in search of signs of normal life, anything that might make me say “at least”. There was nothing. Gogo welcomed us warmly with a very confused face.

There were eight of us and she sat us down on her two beds. As I sat down I realised it wasn’t actually a bed, it was steel covered in linen, and my heart sank. Then I couldn’t help but notice the two clean pots with boiling water on a two- plate stove. There was nothing on the vegetable rack. I searched for a refuse bin. The bucket was there, very clean. Questions ran through my mind. What was she going to cook? There was no sign of food in that house. I have always known that people are struggling outside but I have never really paid attention to such things; now it hit me and I made a resolution right in that dark tiny house — I was going to be a better person.

As we introduced ourselves to Gogo she kept saying our names as if she wanted to place us or ask us if we knew someone whom she knew. I was hoping she would say something to me, but no, she didn’t know me at all.

A friend asked her to tell us about herself. Before she could murmur anything tears started rolling down her face. She told us that in 2004, from January to July, only one month went by without a family member dying and that month was May. So her children died, the fathers and mothers of all these children died. She continued to tell us how they don’t have identity documents or birth certificates. Meanwhile, I continued to worry about the two small pots that were boiling on the stove with no one attending to them. Even if they were going to put something in them, the pots were just too small to feed 10 stomachs.

A friend announced to Gogo that we had brought them some groceries even though it would not solve all the problems they have. And so we went to the cars to get the groceries and we asked if we could pray with them. For the first time in my life I noticed how bright food packaging is. I even noticed that cooking oil is gold not yellow. There was just no colour in the house. The sun was shining so brightly outside, but inside the house it was very dark and cold.

And so we prayed. To my surprise I couldn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say to God. I knew I wanted him to help them with everything, but all I could think of was that I am so fortunate. I have clothes, food, money and, mostly, the support of family and friends, while they have none. The children are so beautiful, the boys so handsome. I couldn’t help but love the youngest child who was very confident and had no idea that life could be better than that. The debate continued in my mind until everyone was silent and I realised I hadn’t prayed.

Mandela sent me there and brought out the human in me. I thank God for that.

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