Grace Mkhungo gives a loud exclamation and leaps to the other side of the bakkie, forcing open the window while calling to the driver to stop.
‘Where have you been all this time? Why have you not been looking after your mother? We know why you are here today. It is pension day. You are just going to take her grant and go again.’
The young woman she is addressing barely bothers to greet Mkhungo and avoids all eye contact. She simply continues to drag the skinny blind woman along the dusty Dududu road by her arm, a packet of newly bought groceries in her hand.
Mhkungo is flushed with anger: ‘That daughter left her six-year-old son with her mother and she has abandoned them both. She is living with a new boyfriend not far from here and she is pregnant again.
‘The mother has to prepare food for the little boy and wash his clothes, blind as she is. I am the one helping her with the washing but when I ask her where is the money from the child-care grant and her disability grant, she says it is gone. This daughter has taken it.’
We were returning from the home of Gugu (not her real name), a 55-year-old woman who recently had a severe stroke.
A few days back, Mkhungo had been called to Gugu’s home and found her confused and lying soaked in her own urine and faeces, unable to move.
‘She is hypertensive and had a stroke three years ago. But she must have had another severe stroke recently,’ says Sister Iris Msweli. ‘When our home-based care team found her, they spent two hours cleaning and caring for her.’
Today, Gugu’s friend from down the valley is with her and she has spread the household’s blankets outside to dry.
Gugu’s young schoolboy son has been trying to care for her but she does not want him to wash her. For the past few days, Mkhungo has been washing Gugu but now she has called Msweli as she can no longer manage and thinks Gugu needs to go to hospital.
‘Her daughter has left her and gone away. It seems that when you are sick, your relatives no longer want you,’ says Msweli quietly.
Both Mkhungo and Msweli work for the Umdoni and Vulamehlo HIV/AIDS Association (UVHAA), based on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast. Their area of responsibility is Dududu, a vast inland area comprising of small homesteads linked by rough roads.
Sister ‘KV’ Msomi and Thabile Msani are responsible for Amandawe, which is between Dududu and Scottburgh, a small seaside resort.
They take me to see Nomathemba, a long term patient of theirs who is struggling with TB and HIV.
‘She had TB and it was cured, but now it has been reactivated again because of poor nutrition,’ explains Msomi.
Nomathemba is living in a relative’s sky-blue rondavel, its tin roof peppered with holes. She was promised a government-built house by the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Housing and expected to move into it by last July at the latest.
But the house is a mere concrete foundation. The builders have refused to build further unless Nomathemba’s family give them money. They have also made Nomathemba, sick as she is, fetch water from a tap in the valley to mix the concrete as they claim this is not their job.
The builders refuse to give their names and claim to have forgotten the names of both their boss and the company they work for. Msani heads for the Umzinto municipal offices to report them to the housing department.
Last week, Nomathemba’s 12-year-old daughter, who is mentally disabled, was raped by the drunk boyfriend of her aunt. The girl has stopped speaking. Although a charge was laid with police, the rapist has not been arrested and neither has the girl received any treatment to prevent HIV or pregnancy.
‘This is too much for even an able-bodied person to bear,’ says Msomi. ‘Although UVHAA is well-known all over, sometimes we feel we are failing because we just don’t have the resources to help the people with all their problems.’ ‘ Health-e News Service.