THANDI NGUSHELO – WESTERN CAPE
When Thandi Ngushelo’s sister died unexpectedly, she suddenly found herself having to care for her sibling’s 6-month-old baby girl.
The double shock came just one day after she found out about her sibling’s HIV status.
At first the disaster posed a massive challenge to Thandi, as she was not working at the time. But the pressure of caring for the orphaned baby, as well as her own child, gave her the resolve she needed to grab the bull by the horns.
Now a grandmother herself, the Khayelitsha resident is among legions of grannies in South Africa who found themselves having to raise young children orphaned by HIV/Aids. These women often bear the burden of being sole breadwinners when they should be enjoying their golden years.
But instead they’re the glue that holds communities together.
Born in the Eastern Cape in 1960, Thandi came to Cape Town in the 1980s and has been living in Khayelitsha ever since.
Her own husband passed away in 2000, but she says he did not provide the financial support she so badly needed. Instead, she had to find domestic work to ensure an income.
Thandi says the worst thing was waking up early in the morning and having to prepare food for the children, when sometimes she had nothing.
“You go to bed and wonder ‘how am I going to feed these kids in the morning?’,” she recalls.
Her life changed for the better when she discovered a local NGO helping to empower grandmothers like her. She joined Grandmothers Against Poverty and Aids (GAPA) more than 10 years ago and has not looked back.
GAPA provides after-school-care for more than 120 children in a safe space where they are not only fed, but looked after by a team of grannies who can help them with homework and various life skills. The members also raise awareness of HIV/Aids and facilitate other activities like teaching the children how to tend the vegetable garden.
“Women are not supposed to work – husbands are supposed to provide for their wives (but) men these days they don’t want to provide for their women,” Thandi laments.
But at GAPA the grannies learn a lot of skills like knitting and beading so they can earn their own living instead of depending on someone else.
Despite finding her independence, Thandi knows she’s not getting any younger and she’ll need help one day. She hopes that she can go to an old age home when the time comes, because she doesn’t want to be “nagging” on anyone to take care of her.
Thandi is adamant she doesn’t want to grow old in the Eastern Cape, as she says life is not easy there. She hopes there will be a suitable retirement home in Khayelitsha one day.
Despite the challenges she has faced during her life, Thandi says she loves being a woman.
“I like to be a woman because women are so strong,” she says.