Children Raising Children

Adele Schormann, Dale Hes and Beatrice Shongwe


Adele, Dale and Beatrice will focus on child-headed households in Mpumalanga, which make up 10% of the country, despite the small size of the province. They will produce a piece that puts names and faces to the continuously growing crisis.

Mpumalanga is home to about 10% of child-headed households in South Africa, with 9, 312 households where the head of the house is a child under 18 years of age. According to these ‘children raising children’, it is a never-ending struggle to make ends meet, to maintain a residence and to be accepted by society for who they are. “There is no time for fun and games for me,” said the head of the Mathebula household, 14-year-old Sharon Mathebula, from Matsulu.

Adding the numbers

According to Wazimap, 8.5% of child-headed households in the province live in informal dwellings (shacks). This is about 80% of the rate in South Africa (10.8%).

The average annual household income of a child-headed household in Mpumalanga is R2, 400. It is about the same as the average amount in South Africa.

“To have a 14-year-old looking after children, to bathe them, to give them guidance, and then still have to go to school and do their homework, is a very sad issue. You think to yourself, what would it be like if this happened to my own children?”

- Nomfundo Myeza, office manager of Child Welfare Nelspruit.

Introducing the Sibiya and Mathebula households

The Write News Agency interviewed two child-headed households to uncover the truth behind the numbers.

The Sibiya householdThe Mathebula householdLegal perspectives

The Sibiya household

Philile Sibiya looks after her two sisters and her own 4-year-old son. Photo by Beatrice Shongwe / The Write News Agency

Philile Sibiya (18) is currently the head of a household in Matsulu where she looks after her two sisters, Silo Mwale (12) and Lucy Moyo (9). The children in the household have different surnames since they all have one mother in common but were fathered by different men and took their father’s surname. Philile also gave birth to a son, Musa Madzini, when she was only 14-years-old, and currently looks after the 4-year-old in addition to her siblings. Regardless of their different surnames, this little family is very close.

“Even though we are of different surnames, our mother loved us together the same way and taught us to be kind to each other because we were breast fed from the same breast,” says Philile.

Philile is a very polite girl, and soft-spoken when talking to someone. She is dark in complexion and slightly built, with a gold tooth glinting when she gives her shy smile.

Silo is doing Grade 7 and is a tall young girl with a lighter skin complexion. She is polite but more outspoken than her older sister. As the second eldest in the family, she has to take over the household responsibilities while Philile is at work.

Lucy is in Grade 2. The last born in the family, she is a very short, shy little girl with an adorable face, but this hasn’t stopped her from wanting to be a police officer one day. One of the tasks she enjoys doing at home is washing school uniforms.

Baby Musa goes to a daycare centre; he is very quiet but loves to play with friends outside the house.

All the girls have short hair and Philile explains that there is no money for long, beautiful hair.

“As the eldest I decided to cut our hair because we would not afford to maintain long hair, I believe that if I can stay with my short hair it would be easy for my younger sister to do the same. So I cut my hair and then I had to convince them that we will not have money to do other things if we don’t cut our hair,” she says.

Lullaby: Philile Sibiya sings her 4-year old son this lullaby every night. Video by Dale Hes / The Write News Agency

My mom and dad...

The children’s’ mother, Promise Moyo died in 2014 at the age of only 34 after a long sickness. She died on Philile’s 16th birthday. Silo was 10 and Lucy was only 6, whilst baby Musa was about a year old.

Philile blames a misdiagnosis by nurses at the local clinic for the death of her beloved mother.

“When my mother started to feel pains on her body, she decided to go to the local clinic after a few days, at the time she was not critically ill. She was then given some medication and then after a few days her body started to swell, we took her to the doctor who told us that the clinic gave our mother [the] wrong medication which caused her body to swell,” says Philile. Promise died at home a few weeks later.

This photograph stands in the Sibiya living room as a reminder of the children’s late mother. Photo by Adele Schormann / the Write News Agency

Philile’s father (Robert Sibiya) died in 2009 after he was involved in a car accident on his way back from work.

“We didn’t have much of a relationship because him and my mother were no longer together as he was married to someone else. Even though I lost my real father after it didn’t really affect me because we never had a relationship,” Philile says.

Lazarus Moyo was Promise’s husband at the time of her death, and treated all of the children as if they were his own, although only Silo was his biological child. Lazarus died from bone cancer in 2015 at the age of 59, with Philile forced to take care of him during his illness, whilst also attending school and taking care of her siblings and son.

Another reminder of the children’s mother, alongside school medals. Photo by Adele Schormann / the Write News Agency

“We were all loved by the same man who loved our mother and took us [in] as his own kids. I as an elder had to look after him, and his passing really affected me so bad. I was so close to him before his passing, it was all a dream until he was buried and I was left as a father and the mother not only to my own son but to my younger siblings too.”

“I also miss my parents so much, I miss them every day and I wish that they can come back and take care of us, cook for us and wash our clothes, I wish they can be here to protect us when we are scared at night.”

Their extended family has apparently cut them off completely.

“The one aunt I was close to before my mother died has even changed their numbers because I would call and ask for food,” Phillie explains. “I think she was bothered, I wish they could take us as a family and assist us with what they can.”

Left without any adult guardians, Philile decided to leave school after Lazarus’ death and look for odd jobs to provide for her family. Philile has broken up with the father of her child and is currently dating a 38-year-old man who supports her financially.

“I broke up with the father of my child because I took him into the house after my parents died, but he didn’t support his family. He wasted his money. I think if you can be with an older person [it] is not a problem as long as they can take good care of you,” says Philile.

My house looks like...

The state of the Sibiya household is seriously deteriorating. There are five rooms in the crumbling concrete house and one is still severely damaged from heavy rains that occurred back in March 2015. This room is Silo and Lucy’s bedroom, and a piece of tarpaulin serves as its roof. Philile and baby Musa sleep on an uncomfortable bed in a second bedroom, whilst a third room is a sitting room with shabby couches, a broken television with colourful stickers, and a broken freezer.

No roof: The bedroom where the family sleeps has a tarpaulin for a roof. Video by Dale Hes / the Write News Agency

The fourth room used to be a bathroom but now serves as a tiny kitchen with an extremely dirty stove, a broken washing machine, and dirty pots and pans piled everywhere.

There is another room without a roof, which is now a smelly dumping site for all manner of dirty clothes, old toys, pipes and appliances.

Rubbish dump: One of the rooms in the Sibiya household has no roof and is used as a dumpsite for the family's rubbish and old possessions. Video by Dale Hes / the Write News Agency

There is no bathroom in the house and no running water, with the family making use of an outdoor pit toilet and an outside tap which regularly runs out of water.

Toilet facilities: The children from the Sibiya family use an open outdoor pit toilet. Video by Dale Hes / the Write News Agency

Washing of laundry, cutlery and the children themselves is all done from buckets. The children are concerned that there may be nothing left of the house by next winter.

“Our parents built us a house long before they passed away. We didn’t have money to maintain the house even after they passed away and now every little brick and roof is falling apart. I wonder if we'll still have a shelter by next winter,” Philile explains.

A broken toy motorbike lies outside the Sibiya home. Photo by Adele Schormann / the Write News Agency

“We are always scared to sleep at night because we hear scary sounds and it is difficult to sleep. When it rains we don’t sleep because the tent roof doesn’t close properly and so the rain comes in and our room gets wet,” Silo says. “Before we close the doors at night we make sure that everyone goes to the toilet so no one has to go out at night, sometimes when we have a running stomach we use a bucket and take it out in the morning.”

My teacher’s name is...

Philile dropped out of school in 2015. She was in Grade 10. She says she very quickly had to learn how to take care of her younger siblings, even though she was still a child herself.

“I never get my parents love even myself but I had to learn how to love young people who see me as their mother and father. I never learnt to look after kids, it’s just something that I learn every day.”

The children scribbled their names on their bedroom doorframe, under the heading ‘The Friends’. Photo by Adele Schormann / the Write News Agency

In 2016 she got a job as a bartender at a tavern in Matsulu. She leaves the house at 7.30am to go to work from Mondays to Thursdays and only finishes work at 9pm, working for more than 13 hours a day. From Friday to Sunday, she only knocks off at midnight.

“I work like a slave for my siblings to have a better future. I left school last year because I couldn’t handle the pressure and suffering of living without any money,” Philile says.

For Philile’s younger siblings, life is simpler. “When we wake we first say a prayer, make the bed and go with our sister to drop her son at the crèche. We have our normal school day and then we have to pick up Musa after school. When we get home we start by cooking food for ourselves, then we clean the house before we can do our homework,” says Silo.

12-year old Silo often does the cooking for the family...when they can afford food. Photo by Beatrice Shongwe / the Write News Agency

The children say they don’t eat anything before school in the morning. “There is nothing to eat in the morning. We have our first meal at school at break time since the school has a feeding scheme that gives us food,” Silo explains. They use local taxis when they go to town, but the younger ones walk more than 5km to school and back.

I am hungry because...

Philile gets paid R1, 600 per month from working at the tavern, whilst the household receives a R350 social grant for each of the three children. All of Philile’s small salary is spent on basic food such as maize meal, rice, beans, sugar and macaroni.

“The rest I use to try and patch up the house or buy the kids some shoes or what they would need at that time. Most of the time the food doesn’t last for the whole month; I end up taking some food on credit from the local grocery shop. I wish I could buy the children some snacks once in a while but there is no money for that,” says Philile.

Philile is the only one old enough to use sanitary pads, but usually she has to use toilet paper or clothes.

According to Living-Wage the R2,650 income the family receives on a monthly basis only covers 52% of the household’s minimal need of R5,056.

Life is tough: Philile Sibiya takes us on a tour of her home with a GoPro on her head. Video taken with Gopro / the Write News Agency

Philile says that the social workers who visit them are not helpful in any way, despite their promises to assist the family.

“I went to report the situation at the social workers and when they came to our home they witnessed the life that we live. We were very happy as they promised us food packages and new school uniform, the whole year went by without hearing from them and when I went there we were told that we should wait for them to call us.”

“I have hope for child-headed households however the government is failing us. We need to work hard for the young ones and build a beautiful future,” says Philile.

I do not feel safe in our house because...

Silo and Lucy expressed their fear of crime and said they are very afraid, especially at night when their older sister is working and they are home alone.

“We have to be alone all day and night when our sister is at work; we are always scared because we hear funny sounds at night but we have to be strong,” says Lucy.

People often walk past their house from taverns, sometimes shouting and fighting. Philile said crime affects their lives drastically. She recalls an incident that occurred in June 2016 when criminals tried to gain access into their house via the roof.

“Silo and Lucy heard some noise and started to scream. Fortunately, the criminals ran away. We feel very vulnerable,” said Philile.

Criminals have tried to gain access to the Sibiya house through the roof. Photo by Adele Schormann / the Write News Agency

People don’t seem to like us because...

Feeling too embarrassed and scared to approach the local church, Philile says the family suffers in silence.

“I think it’s because it’s a big church and they don’t really know that there are people who go to church hungry and I have been scared to disclose my situation because I am afraid that they will reject me.”

“I feel that the society only help people who can help them back, as for me and my siblings, we feel rejected by our own community.”

However, the family is desperate for assistance from their community.

“I want the society to come to assist us when we don’t have food. How do they throw away food when we don’t have even a slice of bread? I wish they could come and ask what is wrong and if we are ok, we need their support,” says Philile, adding that people sometimes exploit them when hearing they are orphans. “The society is not supportive, most people once they know that you are an orphan, they want to exploit you knowing that there is no one to step up for you.”

There is barely time to wash dishes when you are struggling to survive. Photo by Beatrice Shongwe/the Write News Agency

When we get sick...

“When me or my sister get sick we walk [ourselves] to the clinic, I accompany my other siblings but we walk to the clinic, when we have medication to drink we remind each other every day until they are finished,” says Silo.

One day, I want to become...

They all hope for a better future. Philile says that she has always wanted to be a social worker, while Silo wants to be a doctor and Lucy a police officer. “When I grow up I want to be a police officer, I want to shoot all the criminals who steal from people,” says Lucy.

Philile’s says her ultimate wish is for her younger siblings to finish their studies and “become who ever that they want to be in life”. She wishes to one day return to school so that she can fulfil her dreams.

“But how do I go to school while I need to provide for three other younger siblings? I left school because I had to look after my siblings but there is no one to look after me. I don’t want them to leave school because I am here and will always be there for them,” she says.

I love my older sister because...

The siblings have a good relationship and said they are a close-knit family, and get along very well.

“I wish that we could have a meal every day and my sister to get a better job,” said Silo. The family also desperately wants their house to be fixed so that they can be safe.

The Mathebula household

14-year old Sharon Mathebula looks after her sister, 3-year-old Chantelle. Photo by Dale Hes / the Write News Agency

Hello, my name is...

14-year-old Sharon Mathebula is barely a teenager, but is currently the head of a household in Matsulu outside Mbombela. She looks after her only sister, Chantelle Mnisi (3). The two are very close and enjoy each other’s company.

“Our mother always taught us to take care of each other and share every little thing that she provided while she was still alive. I love my sister very much, I take care of her because I don’t want to see her sad,” says Mathebula.

Sharon is very tall and skinny with a dark complexion: she could easily pass for a model. She is a kind-hearted person and comes across as shy, with deep brown eyes that reflect the pain she has experienced.

She explains that she got very sick during 2014 and had to stay at home until she was well enough. Consequently, she fell back a year in school and is now in Grade 6. Chantelle stays with a neighbour when her sister is at school because there is no money to take her to a crèche. She has short hair, with a dark complexion and a cheeky but adorable grin. At her age, she is already bubbly and bold.

My mom and dad...

Sharon explains that they were brought up by a single mother and she does not know her biological father. Their mother, Brenda Mnisi passed away in June 2016 at the age of 30; she was diagnosed with TB and died after a long period of sickness.

“I would always pray that my mother doesn’t die because she was all that we had and she liked cooking for us, but seeing her sleeping in the bed in pain was very painful for me and my little sister,” says Sharon.

The front door of the Mathebula shack has the name of the family’s late mother Brenda Mnisi and the two children. Photo by Adele Schormann / the Write News Agency

Sharon’s father abandoned her mother soon after she was born.

“Some say he is in Swaziland but I don’t know him. My mother didn’t like talking about him. I wish he was here for me when I need him but I have to accept that I am on my own,” says Sharon.

Chantelle Mnisi has a different father to Sharon, and he died in 2013 when Brenda was pregnant with her. “I don’t know what was wrong with him because we didn’t live with him and he didn’t like to visit us,” Sharon says.

My house looks like...

The two sisters live in a one-roomed shack constructed from salvaged pieces of wood, with a tin roof, dusty concrete floor and inside walls draped with old fabric and plastic.

“My mother was unemployed. She used to make money from selling wood because most of the people here use fire to prepare their food. She only managed to make this one-roomed house and I wish she had money to build a proper house for us,” says Sharon.

Poverty: 14-year-old Sharon Mathebula lives in a tiny one-room shack, looking after her 3-year-old sister Chanetelle. Video by Dale Hes / the Write News Agency

The ‘house’ is filled with piles of clothes, blankets, old toys, rotten vegetables and crockery and cutlery, with a ragged bed in the corner. There’s a television which doesn’t work, and a lingering smell of urine. To power the bare lightbulb in the house, the family gets electricity from an illegal connection, whilst there is no running water. Piles of buckets are stacked in the corners of the room, which the family uses to fetch water from a community tank.

Outside, there is a plastic enclosure without a roof, where the sisters bathe themselves from a bucket, and they share a pit toilet with their neighbours.

Cooking: Sharon Mathebula (14) and her sister Chantelle (3) live in a one-room shack in Matsulu Mpumalanga. There is no electricity so they collect firewood every day to cook food. Video by Dale Hes / the Write News Agency

My teacher’s name is...

Sharon says she was upset to miss a year of school, but is determined to achieve her goal of becoming a police officer. She is a good netball player and plays for the school team. “I love the police uniform and people will respect me when I am a policewoman,” she says.

Sharon says that since her mother passed away, she hasn’t been able to spend time with her friends as she has to look after her sister.

“I don’t have time to play with friends, I study.”

Sharon is proud of her schoolwork and wants to be a police officer one day. Photo by Dale Hes / the Write News Agency

I am hungry because...

Sharon only receives an income of R350 a month from her social grant. Grant money isn’t received for her sister, as the grant was closed when Brenda died. The family’s neighbours, who try to support the sisters where they can, have tried to engage with social workers to solve the problem, without success.

“The money that we get does nothing because we just have to buy maize meal, cooking oil, eggs and other small things. We travel every week to get chicken intestines at a local factory and it is not good for us because after eating we get runny stomach[s]. But if I don’t get these chicken leftovers we will starve,” says Sharon.

According to Living-Wage the R350 income the family receives on a monthly basis only covers 7% of the household’s minimal need of R5,056.

Sharon and Chantelle at the fireplace where they cook food. Photo by Beatrice Shongwe / the Write News Agency

Sharon also has to ensure that the family always has wood to cook food on the fire. “It is very tiring to keep trying to find wood every day and sometimes we cannot find any and have to eat nothing. It breaks my heart when we don’t have food, I don’t like seeing my little sister crying because she wants food.”

Long walk for water: Sharon walks about 1km every day to fetch water. Video taken with GoPro / the Write News Agency

I feel safe in the house because...

The township where Sharon and Chantelle stay is crime-ridden, but the girls’ neighbours make them feel safe.

“I feel safe in the house because our neighbours are very close to us they make sure that we are safe and the door is locked before we go to sleep,” Sharon says.

The girls’ grandmother Betty Maluphi and family friend Sesane Nkosi have recently started helping to take care of the girls. Seasane even helped to bury Sharon and Chantelle’s mother.

Gogo Betty Maluphi and concerned citizen, Sesane Nkosi help the children out wherever they can. Photo by Adele Schormann / the Write News Agency

People don’t seem to care...

Sharon says that people in her community seem not to care about the circumstances of the girls. “I think people don’t care about what happened to you and if you don’t have parents or not. I joined a new church and I see people wearing nice clothes and nice shoes but they don’t care if they see I wear the same thing every Sunday. We only receive assistance from our neighbours, but not other people who know that we are orphans,” she says.

At school, Sharon tries to hide her plight from her classmates.

“At school I pretend to behave like any other kids and make sure that no-one notices my sadness. I feel like the teachers also don’t know much about our situation because they don’t talk to us about what we are going through.”

When we get sick we walk to the clinic...

When the girls get sick, they have to spend several hours walking to a community clinic. “There is only one clinic we can go to and it takes us half a day to get to that place. When my mother was alive she would accompany us,” says Sharon.

I love my sister because...

The two sisters have an inseparable bond. When Sharon comes back from school, she can’t wait to spend time with her younger sister.

“We are very close, when my mother was alive she would ask me to babysit Chantelle and bottle feed her. I don’t regret having a little sister because she always cheers me up. Sometimes I bring food from school and we share the meal together,” Sharon says.

Often a piece of pap is all the children can eat for the day. Photo by Beatrice Shongwe / the Write News Agency

I wish that...

“I wish that we [could] find assistance at least from the social workers to give us food, school uniforms and a proper house. I pray that God gives me strength to take care of my sister,” says Sharon.

The shack is piled with buckets used to collect water. Photo by Adele Schormann / the Write News Agency

Without adult care, children from child-headed households are often uneducated about the legal frameworks protecting them and how to go about accessing grants. Professor Ann Skelton, Director of the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria, says that grant access itself is problematic.

“Access to grants is difficult for the child head, who must be at least 16 to qualify. Even though they may have a house, it is difficult to maintain the house and keep municipal services going when there is no money for this,” says Skelton.

Skelton says that if the eldest child is too young to manage the responsibilities of running a household, social workers are more likely to arrange foster care for the family.

“One must remember that the legal recognition of child-headed households was simply done to make sure that the law could deal with children without removing them, but it was never viewed by government as a preferential way of dealing with children. Generally child-headed households are allowed to operate where there is a risk that other arrangements may cause the children to lose their main asset - ie their family home,” she explains.

The Children’s Act makes specific provisions for child-headed households, but states that a child-headed household “must function under the general supervision of an adult designated by a children’s court, or an organ of state or non-governmental organisation determined by the provincial head of social development”.

The Act states that a provincial head of social development may recognise a household as a child-headed household if:

  • The parent, guardian or caregiver of the household is terminally ill, has died or has abandoned the children.
  • No adult family member is available to provide care for the children.
  • A child over the age of 16 has assumed the role of caregiver.
  • It is in the best interest of the children in the household.

Skelton points out that while the adults appointed as caregivers are responsible for collecting and administering money from grants, they may not take any decisions without consulting the child heading the household.

“The child heading the household may take all day-to-day decisions relating to the household and the children in the household. The child head may also report the supervising adult if they are not satisfied with the manner in which the adult is performing his or her duties,” she says.

Skelton adds that child-headed households may become victims of crime and have money taken away from them.

“However, there are many instances where they are assisted by neighbours and school teachers who help them. On the brighter side, research has shown that the number of child-headed households is not growing, and that they are not in existence for a long time because the eldest child becomes an adult or another adult relative comes to assist them.”

In terms of procedures with regards to identifying children from these households in the media, Skelton says that care must be taken not to share addresses to ensure the children’s safety.

“Some personal information, such as addresses, may enable others to intrude on the privacy and safety of individuals who are the subject of news coverage. To minimise these risks, the media should only disclose sufficient personal information to identify the persons being reported in the news.”

Government – the main roleplayer

The Department of Social Development (DSD) is the provincial government entity ultimately tasked to identify and seek appropriate adult care for child-headed households, with the assistance of other government departments, NGOs and social workers.

Mpumalanga DSD spokesperson Ronnie Masilela explains that the department conducts assessments of child-headed households and then seeks to appoint a foster parent.

“When we do an assessment, we look at a number of things including the housing aspect and the income aspect, and in some instances I must say the situation is disturbing.”

In these instances, he explains, the department tries to do as much as possible to link the child-headed households with people who “have their best interests at heart”.

In these instances, we try as much as possible to link them up with people who have their best interests at heart. If we believe that there is capacity from one of the kids then we place the rest of the children under the guardianship of that child. We then need to process the issue of a foster care grant and how to use that money to make sure it services the needs of all the children.”

According to Masilela, the department has a profile of the houses in the province that need intervention, but the number of social workers is not enough.

“The ratio of social workers to households is 1 to 8000. But you don’t need to be professionally qualified as a social worker to deal with these issues. Everyone can deal with the issues in their own special way as a caring member of society. Once you pick up that there is something you can do, please deal with it. We are calling on everyone in our community to take a strong stance against social ills such as substance abuse, rape and child neglect,” Masilela says.

DSD programmes such as the Isibindi Model are reportedly starting to make a real difference.

“Through this model we find the children who need assistance with their homework and all the other things needed to grow up and be a normal child. The progress we see is quite good and motivating. Statistics will tell you that in the pass rate of matrics, many are coming through this model. But we also need partnerships with the private sector, because as government alone we can only do up to a certain level,” Masilela says.

Watch the full interview here:

Video by Dale Hes / the Write News Agency

Government prioritises child-headed households

The Department of Human Settlement in Mpumalanga is mandated to provide assistance to all vulnerable groups including child-headed homes, orphans, elderly people and people with disabilities by prioritising them in its programmes.

According to departmental spokesperson Freddy Ngobe, the Department ensures that allocations of houses are biased towards vulnerable groups.

Watch the full interview here:

Video by Dale Hes / the Write News Agency

SASSA explains grants for child-headed households

According to the Children’s Act, children below the age of 18 cannot receive grant money for themselves. Senzeni Ngubeni, spokesperson for the Mpumalanga region of the South African Social Security Services Agency (SASSA), says that child support and foster care grants are only given to parents or court-appointed guardians of children.

“We have a problem with child-headed households in Mpumalanga, but a child cannot apply for a grant on their own. When a parent passes away, there must be a legal guardian, relative or responsible community member duly appointed in terms of the Children’s Act, a legal process which goes through a magistrate. This is unless the eldest child is over the age of 18, in which case they are officially an adult and can apply for a grant,” Ngubeni says.

Ngubeni says that there are situations where child-headed households sit without appointed adult guardians for long periods of time, and therefore don’t have access to any grants to help them survive.

“This is why there is a call for community members to inform social workers so that they can intervene and ensure that these children don’t go to bed hungry, that they are still able to attend school and that they can grow up as any ordinary child would,” he says.

Watch the full interview here:

Video by Dale Hes / the Write News Agency

The role of NGOs

NGOs such as Child Welfare have a crucial role to play in assisting government to provide care for child-headed households. Nomfundo Myeza, office manager for Child Welfare Nelspruit, has experienced the heartbreak of child-headed households first hand.

“To have a 14-year-old looking after children, to bath them, to give them guidance, and then still have to go to school and do their homework, is a very sad issue. You think to yourself, what would it be like if this happened to my own children?”

Sometimes finding adult guardians willing to care for children is a difficult task. “We try to keep them within the family of origin, but sometimes we find that there are no other family members, and when people want to assist, they want to take only one of the children. It’s difficult to ask someone to take four or five other children into their home when they may already have two of their own children. This is when we keep the children in their own homes and try to assist with donations,” Myeza explains.

She says that the community can help by opening their doors and accommodating children if space is available.

“We need families that can adopt them. Even if it’s not taking them into their own homes, it can be a case of visiting them, giving them guidance and giving them the adult role models they need.”

Myeza further appeals for the giving spirit shown during the Festive Season to be evident throughout the year.

“In December we have a lot of people wanting to give presents and donations, but these kids are hungry throughout the year. We feel that the spirit people have in December can extend to January, so that the children have uniforms, lunchboxes and other things they need.”

Watch the full interview here:

Video by Dale Hes / the Write News Agency

Life after child-headed households: A success story

Once part of a child-headed household in Mpumalanga, Prudence Mokoena (23) has managed to pull herself out of difficult circumstances to become a successful entrepreneur today. Prudence was used to life without her mother, who used to live and work as a domestic worker in another city while she was still alive, leaving Prudence, her younger brother and two cousins at home.

“Our mama was a single parent and me, my brother and two cousins had to be on our own throughout the year. She only came home every few weeks to bring us food and then she would return to work,” says Prudence.

Prudence’s mother died of cancer in 2012, leaving the older cousin in charge of the household.

“The struggle went from bad to worse. Things got so much tougher because we had no one,” Prudence explains.

“We all depended on our older cousin and it wasn’t easy because she was also young. At some point I would need someone older to talk to about life experiences but I didn’t really have anyone. I had to experience life’s changes on my own and try to learn as I went along.”

Prudence says that fending for themselves made the children become responsible at a very young age. “We learnt to cook, wash and to be responsible at a very young age, and it was very hard as kids. We wanted to go and play and have time with our friends, but instead we had to watch other kids playing while we took care of the home.”

Prudence says that she never gave up, continuing to go to school and finishing matric. She has now landed a job as a senior executive advertiser at a publication called Campus Connect, and has successfully registered her own company called Blue Print.

“Today I am happy with the person I am and who I am becoming, because I’m climbing the ladder of success. I know my mother would be proud of me. With God’s help and hard work, it is possible to be successful,” Prudence says.

Prudence has managed to fight seemingly insurmountable odds and make a success of herself.

Watch the video for Prudence’s message to the thousands of children involved in the struggle of living in child-headed households:

Video by Prudence Mokoena

The team: Adele Schormann, Dale Hes and Beatrice Shongwe

Note to judges: After the competition we would like to continue with this project and post the project on The Write News Agency’s website with a special section for donations. We don’t want to ask for money but rather identify the needs of the children who were involved in this project. For example, a dress for a farewell dance, a new roof, food, clothes, toys etc and upon receiving the donations, we want to post photos of the children with the donations so that donors may see that their generosity has made an impact. Thank you for granting us the opportunity to work on this project.

The Department of Human Settlement in Mpumalanga is mandated to provide assistance to all vulnerable groups including child-headed homes, orphans, elderly people and people with disabilities by prioritising them in its programmes. According to departmental spokesperson Freddy Ngobe, the Department ensures that allocations of houses are biased towards vulnerable groups.

Watch the full interview here:

By Dale Hes

One of the most important aspects of the Codebridge Re-imagine Storytelling Challenge is to harness new technologies and apps which are able to add impactful angles to a story. In terms of our “Children Raising Children” feature, these innovations will allow readers to become fully immersed in the story and understand the gravity of the challenges facing child-headed households in Mpumalanga.

Media Monitoring Africa and Code for South Africa’s Wazimap website provides a new level of clarity on some of the most pressing issues facing South Africa. In our work as journalists, we have recognised the potential of this data journalism tool, and are partnering with the developers to introduce it to newsrooms in Mpumalanga, a province which is a few steps behind the technological revolution. For the storytelling challenge, this Wazimap link provides a clear overview of the province, and the figure of just under 10 000 households headed by children under 18 was what prompted us to undertake this project in the first place: It’s extremely interesting to explore this tool, and you’ll undoubtedly want to peruse the figures of the area you live in.

Other cutting-edge innovations give a more literal view of the story. We have personally visited several child-headed households and were shocked by the living conditions of these broken families. Giving the readers a visual, first-hand look at these homes is one of the most effective ways to relay our intended message and make the difference that we strive to achieve through our journalism. Having been introduced to 360 degree cameras a few months ago, we were highly impressed by the ability of these gadgets to do exactly that.

Check out this website to see what we mean:

We believe that these cameras will be invaluable in portraying what we saw in our visits and ultimately, the realities faced by child-headed households. The fact that footage from 360 degree cameras can now be viewed in virtual reality is even more exciting.

Drones have become a worldwide phenomenon, used by videographers and photographers to create some of the most spectacular, unique and impactful images yet seen. People such as Johnny Miller from Unequal Scenes have shown the potential of these aircraft to highlight the inequality still rampant in our country:

Our hope is to use a drone to give an aerial perspective of the townships in which child-headed households live, to show the distances they have to walk to school, and the undeveloped infrastructure of their often dangerous neighbourhoods.

In the modern world, journalistic storytelling can (and should) be far more than just a piece of writing and a few photographs, although these obviously still play an essential role in telling stories. But the ability to support these traditional methods with today’s incredible technology can elevate a story to a powerful, much more personal level.

By Adele Schormann

Many adults today may have fond memories of their fathers climbing onto the roof of their house to fix a leak or making a hole in a wall to hang a picture. Do we ever stop to think what a house may look like if there is no one to assist with upkeep and maintenance of a residence or dwelling?

This thought hit us like a brick this past week when we visited the home of a child-headed household based in Matsulu, Mpumalanga. The state of this specific family’s house is seriously depleting.

Talking to the children, we learned that one of their major concerns is the state of their house. The children fear that by next winter, there may be nothing left of their current five bedroom house.

“Our parents built us a house long before they passed away. We didn’t have money to maintain the house even after they passed away and now every little brick and [piece of] roof is falling apart,” said the eldest of the children. “I wonder if we'll still have a shelter by next winter.”

Photo by Beatrice Shongwe

There are five rooms in the house; one was severely damaged during heavy rains in March 2015. This is where two of the girls sleep and they have been forced to use a tent to replace parts of the roof that were destroyed. This also serves as a dumping ground for dirty dishes and water. The eldest daughter and her baby sleep in the second bedroom, while a third room serves as a sitting room. The fourth and final room used to be a bathroom but is now used as the kitchen.

Looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, shelter is a basic human need. This most recent visit has in particular left us asking: how is it that young children are being deprived of such as basic need and being made to live like this?

By Beatrice Shongwe

As a Christian child I believe that things don’t always turn out the way you plan but the way God plans. My journey is humbling because I started from humbling beginnings.

A child I always dreamt of becoming a journalist and religiously followed the local news despite the fact that -- I thought -- my chances of becoming a journalist one day were slim. This didn’t stop me from dreaming. I attended public schools and quickly joined a local acting and debate/poem group to try and advance myself.

Walls were slowly closing in and my dreams seemed to be fading away, I didn’t know where I needed to go to kick start my career in journalism.

When I finished matric in 2012, university was not even an option as I fell pregnant. Six months after finishing school I found myself a job as a cleaning/tea lady at a marketing company based in Mbombela.

Sometimes I would help out at reception and quickly learned how to use a computer and improve my typing skills and usage of the English language.

I enjoyed working with people and seeing what a big difference a mere cup of tea or coffee could make to their day. This led to my meeting with Adele Schormann (owner of The Write News Agency) – offering her a cup of tea when I could see she needed it most. I approached her and explained my love and passion for journalism and asked if she would grant me the opportunity to work in an actual newsroom. In no time at all I was writing articles and I will never forget the first time one of my articles were published in the Sunday Times (September 2014). Seeing my name in such a prestigious publication, was one of the highlights of my life and I will never forget how I broke out in tears when Adele showed me the newspaper with my name printed in bold.

Two years later I am still writing articles from my home town, Matsulu and giving a voice to my community. Earlier this year I received a recognition award during the provincial Govan Mbeki Awards for my reportage on the struggle of people to get an RDP house and the maintenance issues and injustice that goes with being granted such a house.

Starting out as a journalist in Matsulu was not always easy since some folks did not know what a journalist does and how getting one’s story out there for the public to read, can make a difference.

I am extremely passionate about the project we are currently working on involving child headed households since it is an issue that affects my community and thus affects me. It is my wish that through journalism, solutions to pressing problems may become clear and I look forward to playing my part as the watchdog of Matsulu.

This week we met a 17-year-old girl who is currently the head of her household in Matsulu, Mpumalanga, and is willing to let us interview her and her family. She has three siblings between the ages of eight and 13, as well as a three-year-old son.

They live in their family home which was severely damaged during the recent storms; to the point where parts of the roof is missing.

She had to leave school when she was in Grade 9 after both her parents passed away and started working part-time at a spaza shop. Recently, she found a more permanent position in a local tavern where she works from 8am until midnight every single day. Besides the small salary she gets from working there, the family relies heavily on social grants. When their parents died, the siblings’ relatives cut all ties with them and refused to support them, meaning that sometimes the young family goes without food for up to two days.

She told us that she is extremely concerned about the safety of her younger siblings and son since she works until midnight and they are left unattended and alone at home. Even though she is struggling to make end’s meet, she does not want to see her younger siblings, whom she “loves dearly”, go to an orphanage.

She also told us that she gave up on her dream of becoming a nurse in order to take care of her younger siblings and on numerous occasions, counsellors and social workers have made promises to help the family; but to date, no one has made good on their promises.

In the coming week, we will identify a second child-headed household to interview.

We aim to take a closer look at the current situation affecting child headed households in Mpumalanga. The beautiful province of Mpumalanga is a small but picturesque province in South Africa and is well-known for world famous tourist attractions such as the Kruger National Park. But outside the picture perfect scenes, the province has a devastating amount of child headed households. According to Wazimaps, more than 10% of all child headed households in South Africa, are situated in Mpumalanga. How is it possible that such a small province can have so many broken households that have left children without parents?

From a recent interview with a child headed household, the plight of these sometimes large families made up entirely of helpless children, various social issues that affect them came to light. One being employment. The 17-year old girl who has to take care of five siblings, lied to the owner of a tavern about her age to get a job that keeps her busy from 08:00 to 00:00, day in and day out. Thus leaving her younger siblings to fend for themselves because “someone has to bring home the bacon,” the young girl said.

The issue of employment does not only affect adults living in South Africa but also children. We plan to look at other issues that affect these fragile households such as:

  • Health – does HIV/Aids affect them and how?
  • Education – Whilst students at various universities in the country are making their case for free education, what chances of getting any education do members of a child headed household have?
  • Accommodation – Are these individuals left with a mere shack? What condition is their shelter in? Does this meet all their needs?
  • Crime – Without a parental figure in the households, are these individuals easy targets for criminals or not? How does crime affect them?
  • Income/grants – Do these households benefit from government grants or donations from the private sector? What are their monthly/daily expenses? Are they surviving on the money they get or do they have to resort to alternative means to get additional income?
  • Society at large – How does society perceive these child headed households? Are they accepted by all or rejected? Does their community/church/elders turn a blind eye to their suffering or are they being supported?
  • Relationship with siblings – We would like to have a look at the relationship that exists between siblings. How do the younger ones perceive the eldest and vice versa? Do they respect one another or go about doing their own thing?
  • Transport – How do people with little or no income go about using transport? We want to investigate how far it is that these individuals have to travel to get to schools, a supermarket or clinics, for example.
  • Basic services – With water being a priority in South Africa following a devastating drought, we would like to have a look at how basic services affect child headed households. Do they have access to clean, running water or do they have to fetch water on a daily basis?

Our end goal is to raise awareness around the dire situation these child headed households find themselves in as to get the community more involved in their lives and to assist them where necessary. We hope to get the message across that every child matters, whether they have parents who love them or not.

We plan to utilise various resources to tell our story. We will start with identifying child headed households to interview and then spend a day with each one to ask the burning questions and also to study them. We would like to get firsthand experience of their daily routines and how they go about doing chores without the assistance of an adult. Then we will get comment from professional bodies and associations and try to come up with a solution for this problem. We will also make use of various data tools that have been made available to us via Codebridge to compare the situation in Mpumalanga with that of the entire South Africa. This will show readers just how serious the situation is. In a world with so many problems, how does one compare one problem to another? We also want to make use of a 360 camera to show viewers what these informal dwellings look like where the children live. We will make use of video footage, drone footage and photos to further show the ins and outs of these childrens’ lives. A picture says a thousand words and in a video, another thousand words can drive their plight home.

We hope that with the information that we gathered, to publish our findings and solutions on a website to show others how dire the situation really is. We also hope to add a page to the website where interested parties can be part of the children’s lives. We want to identify each member that we interviewed and write a little about what’s going on in their lives. For example, one child has a school farewell next month and she wishes for a nice dress. By asking interested parties to donate these kind of items instead of cash, will bring a big change to their lives as people will be donating ‘chances’. By ‘chances’ we mean opportunities to live life and to do things that normal children would.

We believe that the best gift one can give another is an opportunity/chance to have a full life. This way we can then also take a photo of the girl in her donated dress so that donors can see where their ‘money’ went and how happy it made the individual.

About us

We are part of The Write News Agency, a freelance news agency based in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga.

Adéle - Adéle started the company in 2012 with the idea to take things a bit easier after being on the front line of news for nearly eight years. That soon changed when she was joined by two energetic and passionate journalists. Nowadays the company is run on a tight schedule with breaking news and outstanding copy being supplied to all corners of the world. Whilst she is still compiling newsworthy articles on a daily basis, she also takes pride in managing and guiding the dedicated team.

Dale - After graduating at the top of his journalism class at Varsity College Pretoria, Dale joined The Write News Agency at the beginning of 2013. He is proud to have had his news stories featured on the front pages of some of South Africa’s most respected newspapers and is a regular contributor for several national and international magazines. Copywriting has become a much more important focus of his job, and his creativity and perfectionism have seen him gaining high praise from the numerous clients he has worked with so far.

Beatrice - Born and bred in the Lowveld, Beatrice joined The Write News Agency in 2014, and is the newest addition to the team. She has settled in quickly and proven to be a promising young writer with her stories already being published in national newspapers and local media. Due to her caring nature, Beatrice is considered the ‘Mother Theresa’ of the office, and she loves writing human interest stories which focus on people’s lives and make a positive impact. This, along with a questioning mind and fierce determination makes Beatrice a valuable member of our team.

With support from:

We thank our donors for making this storytelling challenge possible