News / Africa

    In South Africa, Woman Treks Miles to Save Grandson

    The proud granny with the boy she saved, her grandson, Luphumlo (Photo:D.Taylor)The proud granny with the boy she saved, her grandson, Luphumlo (Photo:D.Taylor)
    x
    The proud granny with the boy she saved, her grandson, Luphumlo (Photo:D.Taylor)
    The proud granny with the boy she saved, her grandson, Luphumlo (Photo:D.Taylor)
    Darren Taylor

    This is Part Five of a five-part series on Child Health in South Africa 
    Continue to Parts:     1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5


    ZIDINDI, South Africa - An arctic gale pummeled the mud walls of the hut and threatened to rip off its thatched roof. Inside the one-room structure, an older woman and her twenty something daughter held a baby swaddled in blankets between them, as the temperature plummeted further.

    Many South Africans, like Nongezi Sinkile, must walk very far across treacherous terrain to access healthcare (Photo:D.Taylor)Many South Africans, like Nongezi Sinkile, must walk very far across treacherous terrain to access healthcare (Photo:D.Taylor)
    x
    Many South Africans, like Nongezi Sinkile, must walk very far across treacherous terrain to access healthcare (Photo:D.Taylor)
    Many South Africans, like Nongezi Sinkile, must walk very far across treacherous terrain to access healthcare (Photo:D.Taylor)
    Nongezi Sinkile,55, couldn’t hear herself pray as the first storm of the winter season tore through Zidindi District, a remote part of South Africa’s Eastern Cape province.
     
    It was a few minutes after midnight, and Sinkile was begging God to spare the life of her one-year old grandson, Luphumlo.
     
    A few days before, she and the boy’s mother – her daughter, Nosintu – had taken him to the local clinic. He was suffering from intense diarrhea and was vomiting profusely. A nurse had provided them with medicines to give to Luphumlo. But they didn’t help him and his condition deteriorated.
     
    Sinkile was convinced that the child was dying.
     
    “He couldn’t breathe. He looked like a fish on the sand, gasping for air. His lips were dry and blue. He was vomiting until the vomit was no more,” she recalled.

    Nongezi Sinkile retraces the journey she recently took to help save her grandson’s life (Photo:D.Taylor)Nongezi Sinkile retraces the journey she recently took to help save her grandson’s life (Photo:D.Taylor)
    x
    Nongezi Sinkile retraces the journey she recently took to help save her grandson’s life (Photo:D.Taylor)
    Nongezi Sinkile retraces the journey she recently took to help save her grandson’s life (Photo:D.Taylor)
    Luphumlo needed urgent medical help. His grandmother realized she and her daughter would have to get him to the nearest hospital as soon as possible. But it was 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) away, and they had only 20 rand ($2.50) between them – enough only for a small part of the transport fare needed.
     
    They would have to walk most of the way to the hospital, to a point where they’d be able to afford to take a minibus taxi to the facility.
    Almost half of all South Africans have to walk to hospitals and clinics when they’re in need of medical attention, according to a nationwide survey completed by the government-affiliated Statistics South Africa in 2010.
    I
    Ncedisa Paul, who works for the Philani health NGO, said poor people living in isolated areas of South Africa often walk for five hours and more to get to their nearest medical facility.
     
    “It can take them the entire day to get there and back and, if they arrive too late, they have to sleep over on a hospital bench or outside to see a doctor the next day. Some people simply die in the bush or along the road before they get to hospital; others die before they get a chance to see a doctor,” said Paul.
     
    No romance
     
    Like almost everyone in the district of 130,000 people, where the unemployment rate is almost 100 percent, the Sinkiles are poor. But they’re fortunate compared with most others in Zidindi. They at least have a small income – 560 rand (about $70) a month in state child-support grants for Luphumlo and Nosintu’s first-born son.

    ​“I just want to thank my dear God for the money that we get every month, when most people here get nothing,” said Sinkile. “My child and grandkids are well covered (with clothes); I’ve got food at home. That is one thing that keeps me going and to smile at all times. I do my garden here; I’ve got spinach; I’ve got everything. So, I’m happy.”
     
    But the family’s meager income means there’s money for only the barest of essentials. And on that icy night when Sinkile’s grandson was gravely ill, they certainly couldn’t pay the hundreds of rand needed to hire a private vehicle to speed them to the hospital.
     
    Sinkile decided they would wait a few hours and start walking shortly before dawn, when there was some light to guide them across the region’s treacherous terrain. In Zidindi, there are no tarred roads, only rough tracks. When dry, they’re rocky and dusty. When wet, they turn to ochre red mud.
     
    From afar, the seemingly endless green hills that break the horizon are a pretty postcard picture. But traversing them ends any notion of romance. They rise steeply and plunge into deep valleys and gorges, their warbling streams fast becoming muddy torrents during heavy rain.
     
    Hysterical
     
    As a semblance of shine from the sun’s first rays began breaking the early morning darkness, Sinkile and her daughter prepared for their tortuous journey to the hospital. But as they were about to leave, Nosintu became hysterical, her mother said.
     
    “She thought Luphumlo had stopped breathing. Then I thought to myself, ‘I must be the strong one if we are going to save this boy,’” Sinkile recalled. She tied her grandson to her back with a blanket.
     
    Then they left their hut.
     
    Even though she knew thorns would tear it, Sinkile was wearing a long black dress. She was in mourning. Her husband had died eight months before, his lungs ravaged by a disease contracted from decades of work underground in a platinum mine in northern South Africa.

    The proud granny with the boy she saved, her grandson, Luphumlo (Photo:D.Taylor)The proud granny with the boy she saved, her grandson, Luphumlo (Photo:D.Taylor)
    x
    The proud granny with the boy she saved, her grandson, Luphumlo (Photo:D.Taylor)
    The proud granny with the boy she saved, her grandson, Luphumlo (Photo:D.Taylor)
    The bush was alive with the sound of countless insects. A stray dog barked at the Sinkiles as they struggled up the first hill. In the distance the seething sea that characterizes the rugged shoreline known as the Wild Coast roared in the distance. The sun began to illuminate the skeletons of ships that jutted from the jagged rocks and white beaches, wrecked down the years by one of the roughest stretches of ocean on the planet.
     
    Birth on rock
     
    Sinkile checked on Luphumlo.
     
    “He was screaming so much but no sound was coming out of him. The mouth was wide open and dry, and you (could) see that the child is very sick. I was very worried. I thought, ‘This child is going to die.’ But I turned to my daughter and smiled and told her, ‘He is doing fine,’” she said.
     
    They labored on. On the slopes of yet another hill that by this time felt to their aching bodies like a mountain, they approached a large rock. Sinkile recognized it as the same boulder on which her niece had given birth about two years before. The woman’s water had broken late one night and she and her husband had also tried to walk to the hospital.
     
    They never made it.

    “She gave birth on this very rock,” Sinkile said, patting it almost with affection. “Her husband wrapped the baby in his jacket. It took them another four hours to get to the hospital so the baby and mother could be assessed. That baby is well today, but it is very lucky….”
     
    No charity

    After walking for about two hours, the grandmother, still carrying her grandson, and her daughter, reached the gravel road that led to the tarred highway from where they would be able to hail a taxi to the hospital.
     
    Then something happened that Sinkile said she’d never forget. A white van pulled alongside them. The driver asked her if they needed a lift to the highway. When she said yes, he demanded money.
     
    Sinkile said she explained to him that all they had was 20 rand but that they needed the money to pay for a taxi to the hospital. She recalled that she’d begged the van driver, “Please sir, this child on my back is very ill; please take us to the highway and give me your details and I will pay you next month….”
     
    But the man sped away.
     
    Sinkile reflected, “Life is hard for everyone here. He also needed money, I suppose. No one can afford charity in this place. Only rich people can show charity.”
     
    Thousands die
     
    After another hour of trudging, the family reached the tarred road. They’d been walking for more than three hours. “It took us so long because we had to stop and look at the child (to see) if he’s still breathing. And also we had to change his nappies all the time; the diarrhea was just flowing all the time,” said Sinkile.
     
    Luphumlo was sweating but his skin was cold. He was still vomiting and suffering intense diarrhea. But the driver of the first taxi they approached refused to leave for the hospital until his vehicle was fully loaded with passengers.
     
    The Sinkiles waited for what seemed to them like hours more before departing. They eventually arrived at the hospital shortly before noon – about six hours after they’d left home.
     
    A nurse immediately inserted a drip into the baby’s arm to replace lost fluids. They still had to wait almost two hours to see a doctor. Public health facilities in South Africa are strained to the limit.

    Luphumlo was diagnosed with acute gastroenteritis – inflammation of the intestines – and admitted. He spent the next 10 days in hospital.
     
    Again, the Sinkiles count themselves as fortunate. Every year thousands of children in South Africa die of simple diarrhea because their relatives are too poor to afford to immediately access medical care.
     
    Back at Nongezi Sinkile’s homestead, another morning dawns. The grandmother chases chickens from her vegetable garden.
     
    She doesn’t know what the new day will bring -- maybe another illness, maybe another torturous journey on foot to the hospital.
     
    Whatever it is, Sinkile said, she’s ready.
     
    “I am very strong; I am very strong. I know that,” she said emphatically.  
     
    Then, amid a choir of crickets and squawking chickens, Sinkile laughed, and said, “God is the only thing that’s stronger than a granny.”

    Listen to: Grandmothers Journey to Save Grandson
    Listen to: Grandmothers Journey to Save Grandsoni
    || 0:00:00
    ...    
     
    X

    You May Like

    Video How Aleppo Rebels Plan to Withstand Assad's Siege

    Rebels in Aleppo are laying plans to withstand a siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in likelihood the regime cuts a final main supply line running west of city

    Scientists Detect Gravitational Waves in Landmark Discovery

    Researchers likened discovery to difference between looking at piece of music on paper and then hearing it in real life

    Prince Ali: FIFA Politics Affected International Fixtures

    Some countries faced unfavorable treatment for not toeing political line inside soccer world body, Jordanian candidate to head FIFA says

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.