Starvation remains a major challenge in South Africa. Stats SA revealed that in 2021, about 2.1 million South African households reported that they experienced hunger.
Some of the affected residents are in rural communities. Many families in rural parts of the Eastern Cape live below the poverty line, with most people relying on social grants’ income.
At Chwebeni village in Port St Johns, 84-year-old Maswelekile Phetshana lives with her eight children and grandchildren.
The family lives in a dilapidated structure and their only source of income is the elderly’s social grant.
“I am always hurting because my life has been like this for decades and decades. I always ask God to stop this poverty over my family, I always pray to God to change my situation. I sleep on the floor, I do not have a bed, nothing. All of my children sleep down. I am asking God to take my life because this life is unbearable – I pray to go to look after my children.”
Her daughter, Lindiwe Phetshana says their family has been living in poverty for years.
“We grew up suffering under the watch of my mother. We have been poor since we were born. We are really worried because my mother is old and should she die, we are out. We sleep on an empty stomach because there are many of us here and we are not working, we are asking our government to also consider us.”
The elderly woman now prays for a better shelter for her family.
Less than 500 meters away from the impoverished elderly’s household, there is another traumatizing situation of a child-headed family of eight.
The now 23-year-old Solam Mthabatheki had to drop out of school, when her mother passed away in 2021. She is unemployed and has to look after six children, with the youngest being three-years-old.
Solam says on certain nights they go to bed hungry.
“Yes, life has changed, since 2021 I have been looking after the kids. It is hard because sometimes we just give the kids food and I and my younger brother just sleep on empty stomach because we cannot afford to stay with crying children because of hunger. We give them our food and we sleep on an empty stomach. It is hard for me, it’s hard for the kids – our neighbours come here and give us food.”
The villagers have called for government’s intervention, as Nosalathise Phetshana elaborates.
“Government must do something because they are all kids, the older sister is 26. She is still young for caring for these six kids alone, without working.”
In the past three months, three cases of murder-suicide, where mothers killed their children before taking their lives have been reported in the province, with poverty being directly or indirectly attributed to the incidents.
Most rural communities believe there are not adequate poverty alleviation interventions from government.