Eastern Cape care-worker with two dependents live on a R1,190 stipend

Nokhaya Bana at the official openning of Vuyo Mbuli Empilisweni HIV/AIDS and Orphans Cape Centre. Photo by Manqulo Nyakombi.

Nokhaya earns a R1,190 stipend which she does not receive every month. When her stipend is not paid, she manages to continue work anyway. In those parched months her family relies on a R350 child support grant.

Ndevana, Eastern Cape, South Africa

When Nokhaya Bana lost her husband in 2006, she was forced to come up with a plan to raise her teenage children. The mother of three said her husband was the only bread winner at home and when he passed away there was no one to take care of the family.

Bana is a volunteer at Vuyo Mbuli Empilisweni HIV/AIDS and Orphans Care Centre in Ndevana in King William’s Town. She works as a care-worker doing door to door helping needy families. The centre was officially opened by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. Elitsha interviewed Bana during the official opening last Sunday.

Nokhaya earns a R1,190 stipend which she does not receive every month. When her stipend is not paid, she manages to continue work anyway. In those parched months her family relies on a R350 child support grant.

The proposed minimum wage of R3,500 does not cover care-workers.

The panel established by Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa to advise him on setting the minimum wage identified community healthcare as one of the most vulnerable sectors for which legislating an increase in wages could risk its collapse as it is funded by government grants and donors.

Bana told Elitsha that there are times when she will find herself sinking into debt because she has to borrow money from money lenders who charge 30 to 50% interest.

“After my husband passed away in 2006 life was not easy for my family. I used to beg neighbours and my siblings for food in order for my children to eat,” she said.

“Luckily my siblings are very supportive but I could not rely on them for the rest of my life. I had to make a plan for my children,” said Bana.

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The 50-year-old said she tried to find a proper job with no luck. In 2007 she decided to volunteer at Empilisweni.

“We are doing door to door, going to homes of needy people. We focus mostly on sick people and [TB treatment] defaulters. We then bring them back into the health system. We also assist orphans, some you find that they do not have food, or there’s a problem with their grant money. Other’s you find out that they do not have identity documents or birth certificates. We then refer their cases to Home Affairs. Other cases we take them to social workers and make sure that they are followed properly,” said Bana.

In some cases they clean or do laundry for elderly people. At home, her first born daughter of 26 years has recently married.

Her second born is 21 years old and doing Third Year at Walter Sisulu University and her last born is 17, doing grade 12.

Bana said the 21-year-old is studying without a bursary and every month she always makes sure that her child has everything needed at school.

“At home me and my 17-year-old we use the child support grant money. Then at university I send my stipend,” she said.

“I always tell my children that we rather go to bed with empty stomach as long as everything needed at school is paid. I trained them to accept their situation at home and know that it is not permanent and they are not going to have everything they want, but what is needed at school I will make sure that I pay it, even if I have to borrow money from mashonisa but my kids will go to school,” she said.

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This year she was only paid in January.

“For six months there was no money. I had to borrow money from money lenders and neighbours to send to my child at university. You can also imagine borrowing money from different money lenders for six months. What is sad is that when the money is finally paid we only get backpay for one month until all the six months is covered, meaning I will still continue sinking into debt,” she said.

Empilisweni manager Lungiswa Ngantweni and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa at Vuyo Mbuli Empilisweni HIV/AIDS and Orphans Care Centre. Photos by Manqulo Nyakombi

Bana clearly loves her job, always smiling despite the hardship she recounts.

“I grew up wanting to be a social worker, [but] because of funds I could not fulfil that dream. To be honest I’m happy with the opportunity given to me by Empilisweni. Here I have a chance to help other people and I also meet people who are struggling just like me and I tell them about myself and it encourages them not to give up in life,” said Bana.

She spoke also about the risks involved in her work as well. To avoid being attacked by criminals, care-workers walk in groups and carry no more than what they need for the home visits, wearing plain jeans or tracksuits.


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