The grannies who still take care of babies

The grannies who still take care of babies

MASERU – At 90, ’Mapuleng Sello is still babysitting, never mind that she is blind, struggles to walk and last gave birth 60 years ago.
As many young people succumb to HIV/AIDS and others abandon their parents, it is left to grannies such as Sello to take care of young orphans.
However, oftentimes, as is the case with Sello, it turns out to be grannies and their grandchildren or great grandchildren taking care of each other amid biting poverty.
With little help from the government, the twilight years of hundreds of frail grannies who can barely take care of themselves have been turned into a living hell due to the burdens imposed on them by the ravages of HIV/AIDS and poor social spending by authorities.

“I want to die,” Sello says, blowing her nose with a handkerchief after a pinch of tobacco snuff. “I have lived long enough.”
But her absence could also mark the death of a possible brighter future for her dependents – sickly great grandchildren aged eight and 14.
Just recently, one of them escaped death by a whisker after failing to adhere to a drug regime prescribed by his doctor.
“Their mother died a long time ago,” she says.

Sello was quietly sitting on a mattress in one corner of her single room, when thepost arrived at her home in Ha-Ratjomose in Maseru last week.
One blanket covered her legs. Another was wrapped around the shoulders despite temperatures hitting a high 34 degrees Celsius.
Next to her stood a bucket covered with a cloth. She said she uses it to relieve herself since walking to and using the pit latrine a few metres from the house is now a herculean task.
“All I want is to die,” she says, adding that she instructed her granddaughter who lives nearby and occasionally comes to help with household chores, that she should not bother taking her to the doctor for her eye problems anymore.

“I have suffered enough and it is difficult to have great grandchildren I cannot even watch grow up,” she says.
Her great grandchildren, who were away playing, would remove the bucket later. They also assist her to bathe.
With no other sources of income, the two great grandchildren rely on Sello’s measly M700 monthly pension payout to get by.
“When that money is finished, we eat maize porridge with salt,” she says.

It was because of malnutrition that one of them fell seriously ill that teachers at school took him to a hospital and was admitted for days, she says.
It was also discovered that he was not taking drugs as prescribed by the doctor, as he is undergoing a lifetime treatment that needs routine monitoring from an able-bodied parent or guardian.
With more than four percent of its population above the age of 70, Lesotho has a larger share of older people than many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Ministry of Finance.
The government has rejected accusations of neglecting the elderly and burdening them with social phenomena such as the HIV/AIDS orphans.
All citizens of Lesotho over 70 years of age are entitled to a monthly pension benefit of M700.

’Matiisetso Chabalala, the Elderly Care Services Director at the Ministry of Social Development, says any other government help depends “on a case by case” basis.
“While doing a thorough evaluation, we would notice other issues that need attention and then address them. Our intervention is informed by our assessment,” Chabalala says.
“If the case includes both children and the elderly, they both would be assisted basing ourselves on their needs,” she said.

She said as long as relevant role-players are around, “assessment becomes a once off thing followed by intervention plan.”
Emmanuel Sebeta, a 94-year-old from Lithabaneng in Maseru, could do with more government help.
Sebeta says he started taking care of his now primary school-going eight year-old grandson when the boy was still a toddler who could not even walk.
The mother of the child left him in Sebeta’s care when she married another man. He hired a nanny, who later left.
The child’s father takes care of all school-related expenses, he said.

“My pension money is the one we use to buy food,” Sebeta says.
“It is challenging to be both the mother and the father to a child but I managed and now at just eight years, he cooks for us sometimes,” he says.
’Mamontšeng Ntoko started taking care of her two grandchildren in 2010 after their mother’s death.
The 68-year-old said she battles to put food on the table.
“I depend on the village chieftainess who shares the little she has with me. Sometimes she gives me maize but since I wouldn’t have the M10 for the grinding mill, we would eat it as grains until it is finished,” Ntoko says.

She said she is suffering from high blood pressure and sometimes defaults on her medicine because of lack of food.
Ntoko says she failed to take her medicines for most of last week.
She has two years before she qualifies for the old age pension payouts and for her it is like an eternity.

Her grandson dropped out of school after writing Grade 7 as she had no money to pay for his fees while the granddaughter’s fee is likely to be paid by the Ministry of Social Development.
She will sit for her Form C examinations this year if her application succeeds.
“I was told to go and look for her name after the first two weeks of February,” she said.
“My granddaughter at times goes to school trembling as she would have not eaten anything. She would eat at school from there she goes to bed. This is embarrassing. Villagers at times share what they have with me,’’ she says.

Her only son has deserted her, she says.
“I have no idea why he doesn’t help us,” she says, adding that the last time she saw him was during his sister’s burial.
She lives in a dilapidated house whose corrugated iron roof leaks like a sieve when it is raining.
“One would swear we are outside,” she told thepost.

She leapt with joy and anticipation when thepost arrived at her homestead, thinking the news crew were officials from the Ministry of Social Development whom she says have promised to pay her a visit. “I said to myself goodbye starvation only to find out I was wrong,” she says.
’Mapuleng Monyane, a 76-year-old had to sell some of her livestock to pay for the education of her grandson, who unfortunately discontinued school after twice failing Form A.
She is now waiting for sponsorship from the Ministry of Social Development for her daughter who is doing Form A this year.
Living in a rented house, M150 of her M700 pension goes to the landlord.

Chieftainess of Lithabaneng, ’Makhoaele Monyako, says most of the elderly people in her villages, especially those taking care of orphans, are battling to make ends meet.
The feedback they get from the ministry regarding food is heart-breaking, she says.

She recalls an incident in which one granny was mockingly asked: “Young as you are, why don’t you work for them? Go look for work, there is no such assistance you need here.”
She says government officials would visit her village and once they see a big house, they conclude that one doesn’t need any help.
“They reason that one cannot build such a big house and then say there is no food in it,” she says.

“Some of the elders staying in big houses would start selling some of their belongings because they want to have something to eat,” says the Chieftainess.
She says she visited Minister ’Matebatso Doti at her home but “I didn’t have a chance to explain the situation to her because people who welcomed me referred me to the ministry’s offices – the very same offices that haven’t helped my people”.

’Mapule Motsopa

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