“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children” – Nelson Mandela
South Africa Today
South Africa is leading the world in incidents of domestic violence and rape against women and children. According to research by the Medical Research Council of South Africa (MRC) at least one in three South African men admitted to raping a woman; at least 144 women report incidents of rape in the country every hour, which when extrapolated results in 3, 600 reported rape cases a day across the country. Rape, domestic violence and HIV/AIDS, are largely responsible for an estimated 3.6 million orphans in the country, according to figures by Statistics South Africa. “Just under one fifth (19.6%) of all children in South Africa, representing approximately 3.6 million people, are orphaned – half of them due to HIV/AIDS,” said Stats SA in its social profile of vulnerable groups in South Africa from 2002–2010. These are causes which former South African President and Nobel Peace prize laureate Nelson Mandela dedicated his life to after stepping down as the first black democratically elected president in 1999.
Despite the negative statistics, there are men who, even under great financial strain are following in Madiba’s footsteps and are taking care of orphaned and vulnerable children. Men like Johannes Majola, a father of three sons and four children he inherited from his late sister. Majola opened the Simthembile Homes for children with intellectual disabilities in Roodepoort South of Johannesburg after being approached by a parent asking him to take care of her child or else she will kill her. “ That broke my heart, I asked myself why she has to kill her” He told BTL “ Single parents face a great challenge, especially those with children with intellectual and physical disabilities, having to balance work and take care of their children at the same time” said Majola “ Often they cannot afford to pay and there are not enough homes which cater for physically and intellectually disabled children – I would say the system is failing us” says Majola who runs the home from governments’ disability grants which do not cover the cost of caring for the ten residents at the home. “Sometimes I have to take food from my own children to give to the residents due to lack of funds”. Majola admires Mandela and calls him his liberator. “ he brought us freedom, liberty and I am following his example of being a father, a protector, a shepherd who looks after his flock. Hope and love keep me going” He told BTL “without love you cannot take care of children”.
Majola is not the only man taking care of vulnerable children, Bob Nameng a former street-kid and an orphan himself, runs centre for children in one of the oldest townships in Soweto – Kliptown -whose living and social conditions have remained almost unchanged since Mandela’s release from prison. Nameng told BTL that he works with children because he wants to protect them from the hardship of living on the streets “I didn’t want children to experience the pain of living in the streets like I did, I am an orphan, and I wanted to lead by example, so that other men can see that they too can contribute towards positive change in the country.” He said. Nameng has been running the center since the 19 80’s and remembers meeting Mandela before he led the country through peaceful, multiracial democratic elections and becoming President in 1994 “When he shook my hand, I felt his powerful energy and knew that he was a man who is larger than life” He says smiling “Madiba and I share a birthday month (July) and a star sign (cancer) and sometimes I compare myself to him and say if he can do so much – so can I. He has given us a lot and it’s time for us to follow in his footsteps and give children the freedom and space to be children and take care of them”. Nameng provides free food to an estimated 200 children everyday who come to SKY for food and extra-mural activities in addition to providing shelter to children who at risk without any support from government. He says the need for more child support is great “we are not doing nearly enough to look after our children, especially girls who are more vulnerable to sexual violent and abuse”
Majola and Nameng share similarities with Mandela. Nelson Mandela (95)’s iconic status as an anti-apartheid revolutionary activist, liberator, world leader and peace maker came at a great personal cost to himself. Born in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa on the 18 of July 1918, he lost his father at a very young age. And while serving a life sentence in Robben Island for treason he was refused permission to bury his son who died following a car accident. He sacrificed raising his own children from two previous marriages with Evelyn Mandela and Winnie Madikizela Mandela, to father a nation through a difficult and complex transition from White- Apartheid –Minority rule to a non-racial democratic South Africa. In January 2005 he lost his only remaining son Makgatho Mandela, 54, to HIV/AIDs. Then at age, 86,Mandela was the second only prominent leader in South Africa (the first being IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi) to call for redoubled efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDs. “Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and to say somebody has died because of HIV/AIDS. And people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary” He said during a media briefing at his private residence in Johannesburg. In 1995, driven by his love for children and a desire to end their suffering, former President Nelson Mandela established the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (NMCF) and from 1996 to 1998, NMCF successfully mobilized over R36 million to fund over 780 projects, at an average of R40, 000 per project by giving grants to promoting a humanitarian response to the plight of South Africa‘s children and youth. Yet even those efforts did not reach 17 year old Joy Magubane a resident at the Soweto Kliptown Youth Center who says Bob Nameng is like Madiba to her “Well all I can say is tata (Madiba) Madiba did nothing for me, it is Bob Nameng who is looking after me and making sure that all my needs are met, he is my mother, my father, my grandpa, my everything, without him I don’t know where I’ll be.”
But for millions of black South Africans who lived under the oppressive arm of Apartheid like 43 year old Madikhomo Nkgomo, a married mother of five children, Mandela is the Messiah. Madikhomo says Mandela is her Jesus. “My mother was a domestic worker and she worked like a slave. We were not allowed to own homes or a land to build one. For Nkgomo, now a managers at one of the country’s leading banks, Apartheid –a racial segregation law enforced across South African in 1948 by then former South African President Hendrik Verwoed as a sign of “Good Neighborliness’ meant that she and her extended family of more than twelve people had to share a two bedroom house in Soshaguve, a black township outside of the country’s Capital city Pretoria. “Things got progressively worse and as children we were all separated. My mother lived in domestic quarters in Johannesburg, while we were moved to different places to live with complete strangers” She told BTL. “ We were all arrested at different points in our family for trading illegally, we often had to hide in cupboards and under beds from police who would arrest us if they found us without permits to be in the city” She adds.” I was a slave, my mother was a slave – Mandela is my savior, He is like Jesus to me”
For others Mandela will forever remain an icon of Freedom “I think many people are at a loss for words on how to describe the person of Madiba, he is larger than life – and still today young people don’t understand the real cost of freedom” says Nomvula Mashoni –Cook referring to Madiba’s policy of reconciliation demonstrated through the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in the late 90’s. There victims and perpetrators of violence and murders under Apartheid testified, apologized and were forgiven while some received financial compensation for their suffering.
In June 2008, Madiba delivered one of his last public speeches during his 90th Birthday 46664 AIDS benefit concert in Hyde Park London, saying “Where there is poverty and sickness, including AIDS, where human beings have been oppressed there is more work to be done. After nearly 90 years of life it is time for new hands, to lift the burdens – It is in your hands now”
And sometimes that change can be as simple as holding a child’s hand.
- Madiba smart (fashionhysteriablog.wordpress.com)
- 5 songs as a Madiba tribute (xworldmusic.wordpress.com)
- More wait to pay respects to Mandela (bbc.co.uk)
- Mourning Madiba: South Africans Say Goodbye to Nelson Mandela (world.time.com)
- Nelson Mandela mourned: South Africans trek to prayer service (nydailynews.com)
- Nelson Mandela (chelmsfordianview.wordpress.com)