Defend Truth


Helping in tough times reminds us that Ubuntu exists and makes us who we are

Refiloe Ntsekhe is the DA National Spokesperson and Deputy Federal Chairperson. She also serves as Gauteng Social Development Shadow MEC. and is the constituency head for Kempton Park and Tembisa. @refiloentsekhe

I am often asked by people who have “something” what they can do to assist – because through my stories, they realise that many of their fellow South Africans live in real poverty.

A few weeks ago, I wrote of vulnerable people living in Tembisa, Ekurhuleni. I mentioned an old lady who had an amputated leg and who was being cared for by her grandson, Oupa. I also mentioned another woman living in Madelakufa informal settlement in Tembisa – she was not very old but living with tuberculosis of the bone. Sadly, both women have since died.

When I was informed, I found myself in a real predicament: I simply could not afford to pay for both of their funerals. Their families do not have the means to bury their loved ones.

In my past life as a councillor, when a person passed away I would inform the social development department of the concerned municipality. The body would be moved to an appointed government undertaker. Then, if the person had an identity document, they would try to locate relatives.

Once relatives are found, they are informed of the death – and there is some hope that they will have the resources to give the deceased a dignified burial.

If the family members are unable to bury the person, then the state sponsors an indigent burial: the family is given a coffin and a grave. In this instance the deceased can only be buried on a weekday, Monday to Friday. Only immediate family may attend the funeral, with a priest to preside over it. Returning from the cemetery, the family may not have any food or refreshments with neighbours – this being a testament to the neediness of the family.

On the grave, the family receive a municipal gravestone that numbers the grave: usually a drinking mug is also placed alongside as a sign of address. Should the family’s financial situation change in later months or years, and they wish to erect a tombstone, they first have to pay back the municipality roughly R1,500 for the indigent burial.

If relatives are not found, then the person receives a pauper’s burial. I am really praying that the lady in the shack had relatives, because it would be sad to know that she was buried as a pauper. I hope that they are found soon.

These two tragedies remind me how strong we are as a nation and oddly how it is those who are very poor who manage to give. When I was informed about the passing of Oupa’s grandmother, the residents informed me that they would be going door-to-door collecting money for the burial.

Some people would contribute as little as R5, but it all adds up. In this community, most people are unemployed and living in RDP houses. Within this dire poverty, people will still find a way to contribute – everyone wants to play a role, knowing that one day, should they fall on hard times, the favour would be returned.

In Oupa’s grandmother’s case, the family was able to raise some money, and with the added donations they were able to give her a decent burial on Saturday. Please note that I am saying decent, not expensive. A funeral whereby neighbours from the community were also able to come and pay their last respects.

The main expenses for such funerals are paying for the grave and getting a coffin. Some people will even bring donations in the form of a bag of vegetables or mealie-meal. These are the things that remind me that Ubuntu exists – and makes us who we are.

Oupa has lost a grandmother but in looking for a positive angle in this sad story, Oupa is now free to look for a job, go on a date and perhaps get married – things he was unable to do when he put his life on hold to be his grandmother’s caregiver.

I am often asked by people who have “something” what they can do to assist – because through my stories, they realise that many of their fellow South Africans live in real poverty. A lot of people want to get involved but don’t know where to start.

To them I say: When you learn about deaths or shack fires, make yourself available to help with any donation – pay for the grave, coffin, vegetables or clothes, even if they are second-hand – anything at all, because there is always something you can do.

Respond to calls for help. When you have given to someone who didn’t have anything, and realise that you have made a difference, my promise to you is that you will wear a smile that says “I have made a difference in my little corner.” DM


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