This article is about one of the teachers from Joe Slovo Primay School - with whom our volunteers work in Port Elizabeth South Africa.
It appeared in The Port Elizabeth Herald in September 2008
Caring teacher comes to aid of seven siblings left to fend for themselves
It has been an uphill battle for seven siblings in a three-bedroom shack in Port Elizabeth‘s Joe Slovo informal settlement after their father died last year and their mother abandoned them.
Last week, one of them tried to commit suicide by swallowing pills because she could not bear their lifestyle any longer.
The seven Mnika siblings, aged between four and 23, survive through the grace of a Joe Slovo Junior Secondary School teacher who buys them groceries.
They are one of many child- headed households in the Eastern Cape, prompting the SA Social Security Services Association (Sassa) to donate food parcels while it engages with the social development and home affairs departments to assist them.
Although there are no recent statistics, social development spokesman Gcobani Maswana said the number was definitely increasing, particularly in OR Tambo, which is one of the poorest municipalities in the province.
“The number is escalating because parents are dying of HIV/Aids and other illnesses.”
Noziphiwo Mnika, 18, said they had started living in abject poverty shortly after the death of their father last year.
As if that was not enough, their mother abandoned them and went to live with their aunt.
“Our life is a living hell because we sometimes go to school on empty stomachs. I have to walk about five kilometres to get to school and, if the weather is bad, I must wait until it calms down.”
Their three-bedroom shack has visible holes in the sides and roof, exposing the family to harsh weather.
“It is really bad during winter because the house becomes flooded. All we want is a proper house where we can feel safe at all times,” said Noziphiwo.
Joe Slovo teacher Nobathwa Msimang said she had learnt of the family‘s plight when one of the children was in a netball team she was coaching last year.
But she did not suspect anything was wrong at home “because she seemed very disciplined, decent and neat”.
“I then learnt about their problem and my wish was to assist wherever I could. So I started buying groceries for them and new clothes to wear during Christmas. But it would be nice to see them getting real help from the government in the form of a decent house and social grants.”
Sassa grants administration assistant manager Kaya Ngcelwane said the association had resolved to ensure the children received food parcels while they assisted them with speeding up the process of getting grants.
Their role is to ensure destitute families get food parcels.
“We intend to facilitate long- term support to ensure the family receives social grants. But we are also calling upon the home affairs department to assist with providing the children with identity documents and social development to assist from their side to make the whole process easy and quick,” he said.
“You cannot expect a family which is struggling to make ends meet to afford to apply for an identity document. It is in cases like these that the home affairs department should show leniency.”
Home affairs spokesman Chevonne McCarthy said no one was eligible for an identity document without a birth certificate. “We advise destitute individuals to approach the provincial manager who would evaluate and see how they can be assisted.”
Families are entitled to food parcels only three times but Sassa said it would make special arrangements for the family to continue receiving assistance until they receive their welfare grants.