Two hours after being interviewed for this article, Mama Maphosela took in another child left destitute by a raging tuberculosis and HIV epidemic. This time it was a three-year-old Saldanha girl who is gravely ill and poverty stricken father was unable to cope with caring for his child after the mother died.
‘People from all over know about Mama Maphosela and they sometimes just drop the baby here,’ says Nyanga community health worker Beauty Tshali.
A shy smile on her moon-shaped face half hidden under a floppy velvet hat, Mama Maphosela has been a stalwart of Nyanga for over 40 years.
‘I started caring for the little ones in 1994,’ says the soft-spoken woman, her heavyset frame balancing on a tiny wooden bench and her frilly red apron spilling over onto the linoleum floor.
‘It was only four children then, but as the TB and HIV has grown, more and more people have asked me to help,’ says Mama Maphosela, who cares for orphans and children whose parents are too ill or poor to care for their little ones.
‘I was brought up by my stepmother who was abusive and wouldn’t let me go to school. As I was growing up I wished to be a social worker so that I could defend those who are abused and this is how I committed myself to these children,’ she explains.
Mama Maphosela has also been a home-based carer in Nyanga and has seen the devastation caused by untreated tuberculosis.
‘I used to care for people and while they were dying they would beg me to look after their children. I had nothing when I took these children in, but I believe this is God’s plan and even on days when there is nothing, someone would arrive with supper,’ she smiles.
Mama Maphosela says she is worried about the many people in her community who don’t want to go for TB treatment.
‘Especially the men,’ she says. ‘They go to the shebeen and they are not well, they are coughing, but they don’t want to go for treatment.’
She says there are high levels of denial because of the stigma attached to HIV. ‘People are afraid to say they have TB because everybody assumes they are then HIV positive. So, they won’t go for treatment because they feel exposed.’
Mama Maphosela’s yard has been a beehive of activity over the past few days as she prepared for World TB Day. Yesterday afternoon (Thursday) a small group of policy makers, politicians and businesspeople joined Archbishop Desmond Tutu at Mama Maphosela’s house to launch a photographic exhibition by a talented young photography student Damien Schumann.
With the help of the Desmond Tutu TB Centre, Schumann spent time in Nyanga documenting aspects of the lives of those affected by TB.
‘We wanted to give people the opportunity to meet Mama Maphosela and go into the areas where we work, where people are really affected by TB,’ explains Professor Nulda Beyers, director of the TB Centre.
The exhibition also features The Positive Transit Home in Zambia where Jean Mulenga, who is HIV-positive, cares for children orphaned by TB and other Aids-related illnesses. Mulenga will also attended the exhibition.
The photographic exhibition will then move to the Rheede Street Mall in Cape Town for two weeks where the public can view the images. A temporary shack will be erected in the gallery to house the exhibition. In an effort to bring money into some of the desperate households, furniture will be ‘rented’ from Nyanga residents to furnish the temporary structure.
Speaking about TB, Mama Maphosela grows animated, her hand gesticulating to her chest. ‘I tell the people that if they cough a lot they must go to the doctor. That they don’t have to fear anything and that TB is nothing strange and that it can be cured. But I tell them that if you do not look after it then it will kill you.’ ‘ Health-e News Service.
* For more information on the exhibition call Lindsay on 021-938-9114 or visit www.sun.ac.za/tb