Soweto grandparents stretch pension grants to support orphaned grandkids

In this three-part News24 series, we introduce you to families in three provinces who depend solely on social grants. In this third and final feature in the series, we highlight the plight of the Maxaulane and Moroka families. Edna Maxaulane and her four grandchildren survive on her R1 500 pension grant as well as a R320 childcare grant she receives for one of her grandchildren. Elizabeth Mangi and John Rabaile Moroka clothe and feed their five grandchildren on both their pension grants, which amounts to R3 000 and an additional R1 700 that John receives as part of his pension settlement with his former employer after getting retrenched in 2006. These families could fall on hard times if the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) fails to find a new grant distributor by the March 31 deadline the Constitutional Court set in 2014. Mpho Raborife spoke to both families to find out what a delay in the grant would mean for them.

Johannesburg – Piece jobs, hand-me-downs and just under R2 000 grant money is how Edna Maxaulane keeps her family going from month to month.

The 65-year-old mother of two is the sole guardian of her four grandchildren. Her daughter Pamela passed away in 2007 when she was 33 years old and her son Sibusiso has been in prison since 2013, when he was 42.

Sitting in her four-room home in Dobsonville, Soweto, Maxaulane tells News24 that caring for four young children at her age and with her means, comes with its tough moments.

Maxaulane used to have a full time job as a domestic worker for a family based in Bassonia, south of Johannesburg, until her job came to an end in 2004.

Edna Maxaulane and her four grandchildren
Edna Maxaulane and her four grandchildren Thokozani (far left), Shaun, Mandla and Nkosinathi (far right). (Mpho Raborife/News24)

Immediately after that, she began marketing her services to friends, neighbours and relatives so that she could scrape together some money to keep the lights on and some food on the table.

She relies on her R1 500 pension grant as well as a R320 childcare grant she receives for one of her grandchildren.

Pamela passed away from food poisoning, which left her two children Mandla and Shaun without parents. Maxaulane had to take them under her wing and raise them herself.

Despite having grown to the ages of 19 and 13, Maxaulane says she struggled to get their foster care grant and eventually gave up trying.

"Since their mother died in 2007, I struggled to get the government to pay them their foster care grant. I think we only received it two years ago, and now the other child is too old to receive it any more. So I felt failed by the government, I had the death certificates of both their parents but no one could help me for all those years."

Her other two grandchildren, Thokozani and Nkosinathi, have grown up without the presence of their father. And although he does make an occasional call to check on the family, she says it is hard for the children to connect with him because they last saw him when they were still toddlers.

Tries her best

Maxaulane cannot say how long her son’s prison sentence is for, and when he will be able to qualify for parole. Ever since his arrest, she failed to make any of his court appearances out of fear of missing a single day of work and possibly losing her job.

Although the mother of her son’s children is still alive, she is not active in her children’s lives. They are 16 and 13 years old.

Maxaulane has made peace with her circumstances and says her grandchildren also understand that she tries her best.

"I won’t lie to you, when we don’t have any food. I do ask neighbours or relatives. I send the kids to go and ask on my behalf and we make it work with whatever they can give us.

"I teach them not to compare themselves to other kids, because those other kids may still have both parents.

"I tell them that there will come a time when they have things that other kids have, but until then, they must accept all that I can do for them and honestly, they do. Even with food, they eat whatever I cook for them, even if it’s just pap and tea."

 - READ: How R1 050 keeps a grant-dependent family going

The most trying times arise when money is needed at the children’s school for various activities, she says. She cleans, washes laundry and irons clothes to make extra cash so that she can cover these costs.

"I can’t say that because I don’t work, and have little money that I can’t pay for the children’s school needs.

"Sometimes it gets really hard because they go to different schools, and at times there will be things that are needed and all the schools will need them at the same time. Even small things like Valentine’s contributions of R15 or R10, when it’s all three of them needing this, it is not a lot, but to me it is a lot.

"I have to try and get it and if I can’t I sometimes have to borrow from my neighbours," she says.

Fortunately for her, she has grandchildren who are well-mannered, humble, and respectful who also respect school. The eldest has passed Grade 12 and is doing well at a community college, she says.

Cycle of poverty

She hopes that education will be their gateway out of the cycle of poverty gripping their family currently. Until then, she hopes and prays that the SA Social Security Agency and the Department of Social Development will still be able to pay her grant come April 1.

"If that money does not come in on the day, it will not be good for us. I don’t want to lie, it won’t be good.

"That money takes us a long way, it really helps us even though it isn’t much, we can buy and pay for certain things with it."


Maxaulane represents one of 45.5% of South African households that are dependent on government social grants, which are available to families with a combined monthly income of R7 000 or less.

According to Statistics SA, R42 of every R100 national government spends on the social welfare system goes to family and child grants.

About 17 million beneficiaries are at risk of not getting paid on April 1, after Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan proposed that banks and the SA Post Office distribute the funds when Cash Paymaster Services’ (CPS) contract with the social development department ends on March 31.

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini said failure to pay out on the day would be disastrous. Last week, Dlamini assured Parliament that all Sassa beneficiaries would be paid their grant on the said date.

In 2014, the Constitutional Court declared the contract with CPS invalid, but suspended the invalidity order until March 31 this year to give the department time to find a new service provider.

 - READ: 'People would die if grants stopped' - KZN family surviving on R850 foster care grant

A few kilometres away, the Morokas are carrying a similar weight on their shoulders.

Each month, Elizabeth Mangi Moroka and John Rabaile Moroka find a way to clothe and feed their five grandchildren.

Three of their five grandchildren are orphaned, but like Maxaulane, the couple tried to get them foster care grants and eventually gave up.

Make a plan

Their family of seven lives on both their pension grants, which amounts to R3 000 and an additional R1 700 that John receives as part of his pension settlement with his former employer after getting retrenched in 2006.

Aged 65 and 73 respectively, the couple says most of the money is spent on their grandchildren’s pocket money, schooling demands, food and electricity.

To make ends meet, John used to run marathons and races as a grandmaster to make a few more rands, before a hip ailment stopped him in his tracks. He says he has run over 200 races, including five Comrades Marathons.

Elizabeth and John Moroka with their grandchildren
Elizabeth and John Moroka with three of their five grandchildren Gontse (left), Palesa and Kgomotso (right). (Mpho Raborife/News24)

Elizabeth offers her seamstress services in the neighbourhood to earn a bit of cash.

"Out of our pension grant we are able to buy food for the house, if they need clothes or to go on some school activities with other kids we give them.

"Then we look at how much we still have left, sometimes you’ll find that [John] is left with R1 000 and out of that we have to still pay rent, electricity and pocket money for the rest of the month.

"As I speak to you now, we don’t even have enough if the electricity finishes, but because we are parents, we’re always able to make a plan," Elizabeth says.

Part of the grant also goes towards paying for retail accounts as well as grocery and funeral stokvels which they are a part of, she says.

Only the basics

When it comes to grocery shopping, they make sure they buy only the basics – maize meal, sugar, vegetables and a 5kg bag of chicken pieces.

The two have been married for 43 years and had four children. Their eldest daughter Mmaphiri Moroka passed away at the age of 38, leaving three children behind. Her eldest child is 22-year-old Matshane, followed by Tumisang, 18, who is in Grade 12 and Gontse who is 14 and in Grade 9.

The couple also takes care of two other grandchildren: Palesa, 16, who is in Grade 11 and Kgomotso, 13, who is in Grade 9. Their mother does not live with them.

To keep their health in check, the couple walks 4km daily from their home to the Dobsonville Stadium to join a group of other pensioners who exercise there for an hour.

 - If you would like to help the Maxaulanes or the Morokas, CLICK HERE to do your bit.

They value this time-out, as it gives them time to focus on their own wellbeing, but immediately after the hour is over, they make their way back home and figure out what the day will bring.

They say if the grant had to miss its date, it would mean big problems for them.

"That’s all we depend on, so if it doesn’t come through, it will only mean problems. We could use his work one but it wouldn’t fulfill all our needs and the children would end up feeling the burden at school, and here at home, we would starve."


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