Sinakekeleni means ‘to care for’ and all four generations of Doris’ family are, in one way or the other, cared for by Sinakekleni gogo (granny) support group. At 84, Doris is one of the oldest members of the group which meets in the semi-rural township of KwaNyuswa in the Valley of 1000 Hills, KwaZulu-Natal. Here unemployment levels are high and basic services sparse. The impact of HIV/AIDS, poverty and lack of jobs takes its toll on family life.
‘To care for’ support group is one of more than 50 groups belonging to the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust’s (HACT’s) Gogo Support Group Programme. The programme works across the Valley 1000 Hills and beyond to support over 2000 grandmothers who care for their grandchildren, many of whom have lost parents.
Doris belongs to a large household having borne eight children and, despite her age, still shoulders some of the responsibility of looking after her many grandchildren. She and the other 18 gogos in Sinakekeleni group meet regularly every second Tuesday of the month to pray and undertake various activities together, including playing games to keep fit. They have met in this way for the past seven years.
“Debt was a problem, especially when with funerals to pay for,” explains Doris. “So we decided to start our own group and save R50 a month. If someone passed away, we could pay for the funeral together. Now we do more than this. We share groceries, give each other gifts, and we love to have parties!” says Doris joyfully.
Doris’ 75 year old sister-in-law, Zanele, lives close by and is also a keen group member. Now a great-grandmother, Zanele raised seven grandchildren alone as a pensioner after two of her daughters passed away. She recalls how she used to dwell on her painful thoughts, especially the loss of her two children, but her faith and hope were restored when the group started meeting together.
Thokozani is one of the Umakoti’s (daughter-in-laws) in the family. Sprightly, and bubbly, the 56 year old shares the responsibility of caring for her grandchildren with her four children. Her husband, however, is away working during the week so Thokozani is happy to have the company of the group.
Thokozani’s daughter, who is 29 years old and is herself a mother, envies the gogos and their resourcefulness, as well as their influence in the community. She says the family and her relationship with her mother have been positively affected by the support group. She wishes young people could learn a thing or two from those who are older.
“I would love to join the group,” she says, “I see how it keeps them busy, how happy they are, and what they do for the community. They have skills we young people don’t have. We have no job opportunities so we are frustrated! People get involved in drug abuse and the teenagers get pregnant. The problem is that young people are not active and everyone just thinks about themselves.”
Thokozani and her daughter worked hard on their relationship after Thokozani took part in the HACT’s six week parenting course which helps different generations relate to each other and is open to all gogos in the support groups.
“My mother was very strict before she did the course and could not understand me. She has only ever known one man - my father - so does not know about the challenges us young women and men face these days,” Doris’ daughter explains. “Now she is much more understanding and we can talk. She has changed since joining the group and doing the course.”
“The gogos used to stay inside all day because of aches and pains but now they are more flexible and go to group meetings,” the 29 year old continues. “They discuss things like health remedies, pray and laugh a lot. This keeps the stress out of our home!”
“The group helps me so much,” nods Doris in agreement, full of emotion, “One day, I got a call from a family member that my dear grandchild in Johannesburg had passed away. The group got together and decided to collect money from each of our members to pay for the child’s burial…. I love Sinakekeleni group!” she exclaims.
Story written by: Rebekka Stredwick
Photo Credit: Rose Corbett
Image Caption: From left to right: Zanele, Thokozani and Doris from HACT's Sinakekeleni Gogo Support Group