It Is Tough But Hope Is Not Lost

When Matshidiso Bhekisi isn't caring for her 89-year-old mother or her mute younger sister, Theresa Mantwa Bhekisi, who is 63, she dedicates her time to looking after her mentally disabled granddaughter, 22-year-old Sisipho Monakele. In addition to her caregiving responsibilities, Matshidiso also faces the challenge of fending off her two nephews, who are involved in illegal substance abuse.
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By Nomfundo Xulu-Lentsoane

When Matshidiso Bhekisi isn’t caring for her 89-year-old mother or her mute younger sister, Theresa Mantwa Bhekisi, who is 63, she dedicates her time to looking after her mentally disabled granddaughter, 22-year-old Sisipho Monakele. In addition to her caregiving responsibilities, Matshidiso also faces the challenge of fending off her two nephews, who are involved in illegal substance abuse.

This is the daily life of Elizabeth Monakele, a 68-year-old mother of four from Gugulethu in the Western Cape.

“I was married but my husband passed away and I came back home to look after my mother and my younger sister who suffered a stroke in 2022,” she explains.

Gogo Lizzy, as Sisipho who tries to speak and uses hand gestures to express herself, affectionately refers to her, articulates how difficult it was to adapt to the current home environment following the passing on of her daughter – Margaret Monakele (Sisipho’s mother) in 2014.

“I was concerned when my granddaughter became an orphan and lived in a shelter after her mother passed away. It was okay in the beginning because she was getting an education at a special school. I, however, felt right to come home and take responsibility for her especially because she is disabled, and you know how dangerous it is in the township. Disabled children are abused – mostly sexually,” she expresses adding that she was looking forward to Sisipho working at the KwaNontuthuzelo Workshop for the Disabled.

“I was excited at the possibility of her progressing despite her disability but realised that it would not be possible because it would mean that I would have to wake up very early in the morning to bath her as she cannot bath herself and walk her to the workshop for safety purposes. As elders, we are also not safe. I am too old to fight against these aggressive men in the streets. It is enough that my nephews are abusive here in the house,” she explains.

Through the Department of Social Development’s Older Person’s Grant which Gogo Matshidiso, Gogo Theresa and Gogo Lizzy all receive, and the Disability Grant received by Sisipho, the family can survive.

“We are able to buy food, electricity, and all the basic needs. We can even buy meat but we don’t buy too much food because my sister’s children who are substance users sell it. Sometimes I feel like giving up but I will not leave my mother and my grandchild. My sister used to live at a home for the disabled and I brought her back so that she could assist with getting her children’s identity documents but now she is refusing to go back. It is difficult for me to take care of three people. I am also old and suffering from back pains. I am, however, being assisted by social workers to find out how best to encourage her. They have told me the process and I will not lose hope,” concludes Gogo Lizzy.

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