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Every cloud has a silver lining

Nursing mother of seven seeks help

Whilst the world struggles under the cloud of Covid-19, the pandemic has brought a silver lining to a mother of seven who can at least now feed her children.

Although 38-year-old Tebogo Mongaka may not be familiar with the English expression that focuses on something positive in a gloomy situation, the food relief provided by social workers has been a godsend.

I am here in Bobididi-jwa-Majadibodu ward in Molepolole village after concerned neighbours alerted The Voice to Mongaka’s desperate situation.

She lives in two rooms near an old tuck shop building in a yard fenced with patches of tree branches. Six of her children surround her, the youngest at four-months is huddled in her arms. They smile as I take a picture, brave faces despite the chronic poverty that surrounds them.

Ironically today is Mother’s Day.

Mongaka’s story is one of struggle. Rejected by her family she is largely reliant on handouts from neighbours to feed and clothe her children.

She tells me, “I had my first born at the age of 20 whilst employed as a maid in Tsabong. After that I came to Molepolole to survive on the P577 paid by the Ipelegeng Programme.”

However, as her family grew and having to wait at times for three-months to get work, she quit the programme.

She went to seek assistance from social workers who told her that as she was able and still active to look for a job to care for her family, they could not help.

“No one comes here or calls to check on us except my neighbours who have turned into parents for my kids. Even the two roomed house we are sleeping in belongs to my boyfriend’s relative. We can be told to move anytime. We just get overcrowded in a small room while we use the other for a kitchen.

“Four of my children are schooling, the eldest doing Form 4, and the second born Form 1. The third and forth born are in primary school. It really pains me as they walk long distances to school with nothing in their stomachs except hunger. While breastfeeding the four-month old the other two remain at home, pulling at my dress and demanding food. As you can see they are barefooted, they do not have shoes and winter clothes,” Mongaka explained.

The family rely on asking for water from their neighbours. Mongaka also faces difficulties when it’s raining as they have to cook outside.

Every cloud has a silver lining
OUT IN THE OPEN: Where the family prepare their meals

Her boyfriend, 58-year-old Malebogo Ntebele and father of six of the children, said that not being able to support his children broke his heart. As a builder he sometimes gets temporary work, but it is not consistent and not enough to support a family of nine.

“I try my best to look for temporary jobs, but it is hard as I sometimes spend four months without work. I appeal for assistance at least for my children to get transport to school and winter clothes,” said Ntebele.

They have even lost the support of Mongaka’s mother, 68-year-old Keopatilwe Marokane who said that she could not accommodate the couple since they were not married.

Asked why they have not married, Ntebele shrugs his shoulders and says simply, “I can’t afford it.”

My next question is obvious, but delicate. If you have been struggling to support your children for so long, why do you keep having more? After all condoms are free.

I look at the kids and wonder if they would ask the same question. Probably not I decide. I then look at Ntebele, frowning and many years my senior, and the question remains unasked.

I thank the couple for their time and tell them that we will publish their story and see if it brings a positive response. It’s the least I can do.

As I leave, I talk to a neighbour, Lindiwe Ketshabeope, 41, who explained how the family’s plight has touched her.

“I noticed Mongaka’s children in the pouring rain trying to harvest some ‘Setlepetlepe’ leaves to cook, and decided I had to help.”

As a clothes seller, Ketshabeope said she assists when she can with clothes and food but it is never enough.

“She needs much more than I am able to provide. I’m worried for the kids and their future.”

Later, I contact local Social Worker Felistus Senwedi who said she cannot remember Mongaka coming to their office for assistance.

“We can only assist when she comes to our office. We access a case on its merits regardless of age. The best thing is for her to come to our office,” she explained.

Village Development Committee member Ido Masilo revealed that she only came to know about Montana’s situation during the lockdown.

“We will try to connect her with social workers after lockdown,” she promised.

Which brings me back to the notion that, ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’. In these days of uncertainty that might be hard to see. But just because it’s hard to notice the silver linings during dark times, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.

For Mongaka’s sake, I certainly hope that’s the case.

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