Grace Mnikathi of Willowfontein‚ Pietermaritzburg‚ feeds up to 150 older people in her five-roomed mud home twice a week‚ with no funding from the authorities.
She sells sweets and snacks at a nearby primary school and uses the money she makes to provide meals every Tuesday and Friday.
They eat bread and tea for breakfast. Lunch is anything that is available in the house‚ says Mnikathi‚ sometimes a chicken curry. This means that they can take their medication on a full stomach‚ she says.
She started with six gogos in 2016 and the number has grown to 150. They come at 6am and leave at 7pm. Mnikathi keeps a register to check that everyone is present.
“Gogos would come to me and ask for food. I could not ignore them‚” she says. “Seeing that a lot of them saw me as a shoulder to cry on‚ I saw a need for action. I took the profit I made and bought food in bulk. Whenever anyone was asking for food I would take from the bulk.”
“In 2016 I decided to invite them for Christmas lunch. Six of them came. Then I took a decision to invite them every Tuesday. The number has grown to 150. They now come on Tuesday and Friday‚” says Mnikathi.
“This is our happy home‚” says 80-year-old Sizakele Ntuli. She started visiting Mnikathi in 2017. She says her favourite days of the week are Tuesday and Friday when she goes to Mnikathi’s house.
“We call her a good Samaritan‚” says Ntuli. “From 6am we are already here. We have our breakfast around 7am. We are all pensioners with different problems. Some of us need to offload what is bothering us at home. She (Mnikathi) has a good ear. She listens and assists where she can. We are older than her but she has become our mother. Some of us have no food at home. We cannot take medication on empty stomachs. From her own pocket she is our provider. She is the reason behind our smile.”
When GroundUp visited‚ there were about 24 people doing exercises. Mnikathi had just returned from selling at the school. The nurses had arrived to supply the residents their pills‚ following an application by Mnikathi to the local clinic.
She says social workers also visit when necessary.
“You find that some of them are robbed of their pension money by relatives. The social workers intervene on such matters.
“We also sent a request to Plessislaer police station for protection. I did that‚ so that no one takes advantage when we are sitting outside. We don’t have a proper shelter. My house has become small‚” says Mnikathi.
Cecilia Mshengu‚ 75‚ says she has learned how to do bead work‚ while Bhekizizwe Mkhize‚ 79‚ helps out in the garden.
“The vegetables we eat are from our garden. We have potatoes‚ cabbage and spinach. We feel safe here. The atmosphere is good. We share our old time stories. We laugh at those without teeth. The physical workouts help us. We are checked regularly. It helps and we are grateful. She doesn’t charge us for anything‚” says Mkhize.
But‚ he says‚ the house has “become small”. “We would love a proper shelter.”
Mnikathi says she has spoken to the local councillor‚ Thabiso Molefe‚ but he told her that for now there is no prospect of help because the municipality has no money. GroundUp was unable to reach Molefe for comment.
In response to a question from GroundUp‚ KwaZulu-Natal Social Development spokesperson Ncumisa Ndelu said Mnikathi should go to the nearest office and ask for help. Nompendulo Ngubane – GroundUp