By Jung Lee
It was a gloomy Heritage Day afternoon when I was confronted by two young men. They both have been attending Vukukhanye in Zola South for the past two months. A multitude of people on the street adorned traditional suits and proudly painted faces. However, these two only displayed their displeasure with their arms crossed. They demanded from us ‘concrete evidence’ on how we are helping in the community, and claimed they have not seen any help (jobs and such) from us. It was obvious where they were going with this conversation, but I carried on with them anyways. I asked, “Do you see any changes in the community?” They responded, “Yes, I do. Ziekona is doing very, very well week after week, but did you help her only emotionally or financially?”
Ziekona was sobbing when she came to see us. She is a single mother of three with a heavy drinking problem. To make matter worse people kept taking her ID, so she couldn’t even apply for a government assistance. People thought if someone would help her to get her ID back, things will work out. However, here in South Africa, the identification book works as collateral due to heavy reliance on government grants. Even if she did get her ID back, it is unfortunately very likely that things will not improve. During the conversation, she said something that stood out to me, “I have nothing, and can’t provide for my kids. My kids think I am a bad mother. I want to be happy with my kids.” At the end of the conversation I shared with her, “Ziekona, I understand that you need help, but what I am hearing is that you want to be a good mother. Am I right?” She nodded. I continued, “I can make miracles happen and solve all the problems, but if you are drunk, you can’t ever be a good mother. They need you as a mother 24 hours a day. I’d like you to try to quit drinking first, and don’t worry about your relatives who do not care about you. Consider us as your family, and we will be there for you.” It was about a month ago when she walked out of our first meeting with hope, and a smile on her face.
Since then, Zameka and Gilbert have looked after her with food, and have rectified the ID issue. Zukisani and I visit her every time we are in the community. We rushed to the hospital when her baby got hurt, and brought them food. When skeptical neighbors brought her down with condescending and hurtful words, we encouraged her to continue to be strong. Now, she has a government grant on its way and support from Vukukhanye members and friends. Yesterday, she came to me and said, “I love you guys. Please never leave me. Because of you, people saw something in me that they never saw before. Now, people love me. You brought me somewhere from nowhere, so you can take me anywhere from here. I will go anywhere with you.”