Duration:4min 38sec


KHOPOTSO: After being on the road for an hour-and-a-half from the capital Maseru, it takes a further 40 minutes’€™ drive up a winding, rocky slope to reach the Lenyatsa household perched on an outcrop just below the mountain top on which the village name ‘€˜Fobane ha Tumo’€™ is painted in big white letters. This small village in the district of Berea, is but one of many in Lesotho affected by HIV/AIDS. We arrive on a Thursday afternoon, led by Mokhothu Makhalanyane, manager of the Wellness Centre at the regional Maloti Adventist Hospital, which encompasses counselling services, care for orphans and food security projects.  

Mpolokeng! Mpolokeng, you have visitors. These are your visitors’€¦

Le kae mme? Ke Khopotso. Mpolokeng Lenyatsa. Mpolokeng Lenyatsa? Ee. O ena le dilemo tse kae mme? Tse 13. Tse 13? Ee.

KHOPOTSO: Her name is Mpolokeng Lenyatsa. She’€™s just turned 13 and she’€™s head of a family of four other children, which includes her brother and three cousins. Trying to interview her is like re-inflicting her grief and pain.

Child sobbing’€¦

KHOPOTSO: Care-givers, social workers and neighbours seem to be better equipped to speak on behalf of her and her family.

MMAMPABI KIBI: My name is Mmampabi Kibi. I’€™m the social worker from Maloti Adventist Hospital’€¦ In this family’€¦ there are five children ‘€“ there are two girls and three boys left in the family’€¦ They are all living here even though one of them is at boarding school at the moment’€¦ It’€™s a girl, aged 16’€¦

KHOPOTSO: And the children that are left in the household, their age(s)?

MMAMPABI KIBI: The girl is 13. Two boys, 10 and one, 11.

KHOPOTSO: The Lenyatsa orphans are direct cousins. Their parents were siblings ‘€“ two sisters and a brother. Since 2000 after the death of the last of their parents, who died in rapid succession, the children have been living without supervision in the family home. No one knows exactly what killed their parents, except an explanation that the last one to die was very sick and had a long bout of diarrhoea and vomiting, suggesting that she might have died of AIDS complications. The deceased are buried on a plot in the family yard, as is customary. Mokhothu Makhalanyane, of the Wellness Centre at the Maloti Adventist Hospital.

MOKHOTHU MAKHALANYANE: This is one of the graves of one of their aunts who also was staying here’€¦ She was buried here. And then the other relatives, as you can see the other graves right here in the garden.

KHOPOTSO: Mary Nekela Lenyatsa was born on the 11th of October 1968 and died on the 9th of February 2003, so her tombstone reads… Who was she in the family?

MOKHOTHU MAKHALANYANE: She was the daughter of the family, who was not married, but she had the children, like the child who is heading the family.

KHOPOTSO: The 13 year old?


KHOPOTSO: And the other two there that are not marked?

MOKHOTHU MAKHALANYANE: The other one is for the uncle to this girl, the one who is heading the family, and then the aunt.

KHOPOTSO: Makhalanyane says the story of child-headed households and Mpolokeng Lenyatsa and her family is one that is becoming all too familiar in Lesotho.

According to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Lesotho has over 73 000 orphans as a result of HIV and AIDS alone. In the village of Fobane ha Tumo, there are 102 orphans, the highest number to be found in a single village. That doesn’€™t necessarily mean that all of them are as a result of AIDS, though.

MOKHOTHU MAKHALANYANE: But besides that, we have actually assessed the percentage and the trend of the child-headed households. We found that 48 % of all our orphans are child-headed households. The trend is that in five years’€™ time there will be 84 % of child-headed households in our area here’€¦ HIV/AIDS is really playing the top part in all this’€¦

We did a study in ten villages looking at how many people die every weekend and how many burials (take place) and how many children become orphans. And we realised that in ten villages, every weekend, at least (in) eight of those villages there is somebody who dies who is between 19 and 49 years old. As a result, every week, there are not less than ten children who become orphans.    

KHOPOTSO: So, what’€™s the best way to remedy the plight of orphans caused by AIDS? Makhalanyane’€™s response is plain and almost dismissive: ‘€œThere’€™s nothing that can be done,’€ he says ‘€œexcept to teach children to become parents.’€

E-mail Khopotso Bodibe


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