WRITERS: CHANDRE AND ZIKHONA
The air is tainted with smells of decomposing rubbish and burning chicken, yet what appears to me as ill sanitation is called home by so many people. Wetlands, Masiphumelele, a relatively small township found between Fish Hoek and Kommetjie, is a known fire-hazard area, mainly due to overcrowding of shacks and poor management. Its people, regardless of their circumstances, are dressed smartly in brands that up until today were unknown to me.
Between all the gangsterism and slums are the gems of Masie… Its children! Beautiful little kids run the streets, playing various games and singing traditional songs. Whilst their parents are away theses children are left to their own devices, free to do whatever they choose. Free to be. But who are these kids? Who are their parents? And why aren’t they at school?
South Africa is currently facing a huge problem: teenage pregnancies. With the current rate of teenage pregnancies, the need for child support grants are increasing, impacting our economy in the process.
According to Martin Fisher from the Department of Social Development: “Social grants from the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) are provided to biological parents/mothers. A teenage mother in possession of an ID document, proof of birth (birth certificate) and clinic card is eligible to apply for the grant. The grant may also be given to a primary caregiver providing the necessary documentation.”
Unathi Whitey fell pregnant in 2008 at the tender age of 15. Whitey, along with 387 238 other beneficiaries (as reported by Parent24) receives a support grant of R270 every month from the South African government. It is believed that many girls use this grant for their own benefit as extra spending money, instead of the way it was intended to be used: for the children.
“I had to hustle as I wasn’t working. I was a teenager that fell pregnant for the money but I didn’t know that it was going to be difficult,” said Whitey. She now belongs to a stokvel group (consisting of her and two friends) where R100 of the grant money is put aside every month for entertainment purposes. “I use the grant to buy myself clothes and sometimes to go out with my friends,” said the teenage mother, who, like many of her peers, turns to her parents to take care of her child whilst she goes out with friends.
Before we play the blame game, Fisher cautions that we need to understand the wider context. “Gender relation issues are also social factors that have to be considered when we assume abuse of social grants and the lack of proper parenting supervision skills to young parents, especially women,” Fisher explained.
There are many people who feel that the grant is effective and isn’t being abused. “From clinical experience I saw that it normally supports the entire family. In a community health centre where I worked, beautiful young women informed me that their parents consented to them having relationships with taxi drivers, as they supported the family financially,” Juliana Willemse, health worker and lecturer at the University of the Western Cape, told LIVE.
Nevertheless, some children suffer under the existing system. “My mother sent us to steal a toaster and iron,” said a five-year-old boy from Elsies River. He and his older brother were sent by their mother to steal from a house in their community. The mother is currently receiving a grant for both children but uses it to support her TIK addiction instead.
Society may look at the children as delinquents, yet in reality they are victims of poor parenting and poverty. “The children are taught to steal and are used to beg on street corners to provide funds for their households,” said Melissa Waters* from Victim Support, an NGO that works with abused individuals in Elsies River.
A major problem worsening the situation is the absence of fathers to support their “babymommas”. For those mothers, the grant is their only source of income. “He doesn’t even care that he has a child. We see each other in taverns and just look at each other like we’ve never met before,” Whitey said of the guy who got her pregnant.
“When is the government going to hold the fathers responsible? [Fathers] are now abandoning their children because there is SASSA taking over their responsibilities. According to government and SASSA, the fathers do not exist. If government can hold the fathers accountable, the battle will be won half way,” said Williams.
Upon leaving Wetlands I spotted a painting on the local library’s wall that held me captive by its beauty. It read: “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor; that a son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine; that a child of a farm worker can become president…”
Not only are mothers who abuse the grant robbing their child of their future, they are also creating a cycle of grant-dependency. So trade in those Carvella’s and take that “long walk to freedom” with your bundle of joy. Yes you may stumble and it might hurt sometimes. Even roses have thorns. In the end it’ll all be worth it.
*Names have been changed to protect identity
Stokvels are clubs or syndicates, serving as a rotating credit unions, where members contribute fixed money.