Pauline Khoza, KwaNyuswa, Valley of 1000 Hills, KwaZulu-Natal.
Pauline Khoza was born in 1930 in KwaNuyuwsa where she still lives today. She cannot remember in which year she was married, however over the span of her marriage she bore eleven children, only one of which survives to this day. She lost her husband in 1972, leaving her as the sole breadwinner to care for and support eight grandchildren. In recent years, two of her family have managed to find work, helping to subsidise the families’ small income.
Recently, aged 86, Pauline decided to learn new skills as a way to further assist her family, and so enrolled in The Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust’s dress-making school, becoming the oldest member of the class by some distance. Once qualified, her dream is to attend the advanced sewing school and start a clothing repairs business in her community.
Nombango Bhengu, Ncgolosi, Valley of 1000 Hills, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa.
Nombango Bhengu is in her late sixties and supports a family of nine, including four grandchildren, all on her pension and a small wage earned by her son who works on a farm nearby. She has lost two of her six children.
Successive strokes a few years ago left her
bedridden, unable to use her arms and with limited speech. A health care-worker
from the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust encouraged Nombango to join a Gogo Support
Group and exercise weekly. Slowly, she recovered her mobility, and this year
proudly took part in the 400m relay races and ‘pass the ball’ event at the
Gogolympics in Molweni. “My arms are so strong now I can hold my grandchild,
which makes me feel very happy,” she says.
Tholakekele Nene, Molweni, Valley of 1000 hills, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Tholakekele is 56 years old, and the mother of four children. When she arrived in Molweni from her birthplace of KwaNcgolosi, she noticed that the traditional beading skills she learnt as a child from her grandparents were little known in her new community, so she set up a support group to help empower the women, and encourage entrepreneurship. Under a tree in 2006, she launched her beading workshop and support group.
Tholakekele and the women in the group then embarked on building a meeting place where they could work. They made blocks by hand with sand from the river and erected the building in the space of three years, with a little help from others. The Support Group members sew, do beadwork, knit, garden and make blocks. They sell some of their products through the Woza Moya craft shop at the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust, and hire out traditional clothing in the community. They also assist orphaned and vulnerable children in the area by providing food from the produce they grow in their gardens.
Lindeni Mbutho, Molweni, KwaZulu-Natal
Lindeni spends much of her time caring for her thirteen grandchildren and the people in her community. Her grandchildren call her Phisana which means ‘just give’ because when she sees someone in need she gives what she can, even if it is her last bread, or clothing she had planned to sell. Lindeni was awarded Gogo of the Year in 2014 by the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust for her contribution to the community.
“I was a Care-Worker and used to visit the people with HIV and AIDs in the days when there was no treatment. I would wash and care for them when no-one else would. I still raise awareness in the community where I live. I tell people to take their medication and go with them to the clinic. I was very poor when I grew up and know how important it is to share what little we have. It is my faith in God which gets me through,” she says.
Ntombenhle (name changed to protect her identity), Valley of 1000 Hills, KwaZulu-Natal
Ntombenhle is 54 years old and lives with her daughter and three grandchildren. Ntombenhle is HIV positive, and has been hospitalised in the past for Tuberculosis. Unable to work due to her ill health, Ntombenhle fell into acute poverty and unable to provide for her family, suffered two strokes due to the stress of her situation. Malnourished, hungry and weak, the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust provided food parcels in order to enable her to regain strength. Ntombenhle now supports her family by selling second-hand clothing.
The cushion between poverty and survival in many households in South Africa can be very thin, with single and widowed women often bearing the sole responsibility of raising their families and bringing in an income if they are left alone.
Lahliwe Khumalo, 65 years, Inchanga, Valley of 1000 Hills, KwaZulu-Natal.
Lahliwe was born in Mbumbulu, KwaZulu-Natal, in 1951; orphaned when she was young and raised by her teenage brothers, she was married at sixteen. Lahliwe fled her home due to the political violence of the 1980’s and settled in Inchanga. In 2003, she was widowed and left with four children and four grandchildren. Hungry and desperate, Lahliwe turned to the local Ward Councillor for help. She was given three months of food parcels, and a job as a road sweeper - a job she has held to this day. Lahliwe has sacrificed everything to ensure her children and grandchildren gain an education.
She says, “We are ten people at home. I got my kids through school by growing and selling veggies. Now I make jam, pillows, T-shirts and beadwork and sell door-to-door. We also go to the local chicken farm to collect donated chicken skins to make curry.”
Lahliwe was crowned ‘Gogo of the year in 2015’ by the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust. She sits on the Local Tribal Authority which represents the community and assists with resolving disputes. Usually the domain of men, this is a great honour as a woman.
Thokozile, 54 years, Inchanga, Valley of 1000 Hills, KwaZulu-Natal.
Thokozile was born in Pietermaritzburg but fled to Inchanga in the late 1980’s due to political violence. Her husband and sole breadwinner passed away some years later, leaving her alone to support six children and eight grandchildren. Having personally experienced the stigma of losing her status as a married women – a cultural stigma often experienced in South African communities - she formed the ASISODWA (We are not alone) Widows Support Group in 2012 which she also registered as a Non-Profit Organisation.
“We do not depend on men; we depend on God because He will never abandon us. People think being in the company of a widow brings bad luck. We may not have husbands but we are human, and we work with our hands through sewing to earn a living; many of our members have improved their sewing skills at the sewing school set up by the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust,” she says.
Thokozile sits on the Board of Governors for a local school, and devotes time to visiting the sick for a charity in the area. Her vision is: Isaiah 54, v4 in the Bible: "Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”
Khonsiwe Meyiwa, 57 years, Inchanga, Valley of 1000 Hills, KwaZulu-Natal
Khonsiwe came to Inchanga in 1994 due to political violence in her home town of Swayimane, near Wartburg in KwaZulu-Natal. After she was widowed in 1999, she was driven to start a crèche and after-school club when she learnt that a child nearby had died from neglect. Caring for seven of her own children (and 13 grandchildren), she has dedicated her life to helping children and parents in the community.
Khonsiwe founded the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust’s (HACT) very first Gogo Support Group, and set up her own adult education school. She has just qualified for her first, full time paid job as a Child Support Worker with HACT, running a Support Group focused on HIV prevention and life skills for 50 children.
She says, “I never finished school so decided to educate myself and got my certificate aged 54. If I can educate myself at my age, so can others - fifteen parents at the school now have certificates.”
Nokuthula, 42 years & Busisiwe, 52 years, Valley of 1000 Hills, KwaZulu-Natal
Nokuthula and Busisiwe are sisters and members of Khuthalani Support Group in KwaNyuswa. The lively, enterprising group set up a community bakery and pizzeria not long ago, having sourced the funding themselves through a private company social enterprise (Mama Mimi). The company provides the bread mix, the materials and training, receiving a small share of the sales. The wood burning ovens, which were sponsored by corporates, produce 25 loaves a day which the Support Group sells at community events and from their little corner shop with much success.
“We were just home alone before with our children and grandchildren and no income. The bakery gives us everything we need and keeps us busy.”
Khuthalani Support Group, KwaNyuswa, Valley of 1000 Hills, KwaZulu-Natal
The 15 members of Khuthalani Support Group run a bakery, raise poultry, tend a vegetable garden and sew items such as bedspreads for sale. Their energetic achievements led to the group being awarded Gogo Support Group of the Year in 2015 by the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust. It costs R20 to become a member of the group; and R10 monthly subscription, which is put into a bank savings account and used when needed. A committee coordinates the group and consults the members on decisions, and one member takes minutes.
“I don’t know what I would do without the support and help from the group. Each of us has lost family members and we comfort each other. If someone loses a young child, we all help that person to buy groceries. Also, our sewing and bread-making businesses mean we can feed our families and save. When we can’t pay for something, we offer clothing alterations to people in exchange – we did this with the meeting house we are building which has helped a lot,” says Bongekile Phewa, one of the Support Group members.
Nkululeko Gogo Support Group, Valley of 1000 Hills, KwaNyuswa, KwaZulu-Natal
The 18 members of the Nkululeko Support Group tend a vegetable garden which feeds more than 100 people who are mainly family members. The Group grows beetroot, cauliflower, turnips, spinach, chilies, pulses, cabbage and many other vegetables.
Support Group leader, Emelda Khanyeza says, “We save money by growing our own food, and sell what is left over; most people don’t have their own yards so we garden here on this plot donated by one of our members. When we grow cabbages we know that for each cabbage we grow, we save R16 which is what it costs in the shops. We still need a tap and pipes, and fencing for the other part of the plot. We also dream of starting a poultry project.”
Steady But Sure (Name changed to protect identity, Steady but Sure is her chosen pseudonym), Valley of 1000 Hills, KwaZulu-Natal
Steady lives with her two daughters and two grandsons. Although she has grown up daughters, she recently completed a parenting course and wishes to pass this learning onto others in her community. Steady has difficult memories of her childhood which was full of neglect and hunger. She was often beaten by her parents and had to look after herself and her siblings.
“I had to find ways to get food and didn’t know the dangers because my parents didn’t tell me. This got me into trouble and I was taken advantage of by two men and raped. When I told my mother she threw me out of the house – my own mother! I carried that pain and anger with me for years. On the course, I learnt about forgiveness of the past - you can’t live a full life when you carry a grudge. I have shared what I learnt with my daughters. But it’s not just the women who need advice; it must be the men also,” she says.
Deeply rooted in South Africa’s history and cultures, Gogos (Grandmothers) are the bedrock upon which South Africa’s communities have stood for generations. Their lives marked by unwavering perseverance, faith, wisdom and courage, they have strived to hold their families and communities together in the face of unrelenting hardships and persistent societal pressures. South African Gogos have fought against the combined brutality of Apartheid, the debilitating effects of poverty and mass unemployment, and the devastating impact of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis. Almost all have personally experienced the immense challenges of loss and grief.
Gogos are mothers to their children and grandchildren; they are wives, leaders, breadwinners, nurturers and entrepreneurs. Their determined resilience and quiet dignity has enabled them to carry responsibilities far, far heavier than should ever be expected of their generation, and yet rarely are their voices heard, and rarely do they receive the recognition and emotional, political and material support that they so richly deserve.
The following photographic series is a collaboration with the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust (HACT), with a special thanks to the Gogos of the Valley of 1000 Hills for sharing their stories. It explores the dignified strength and resilience shown by Gogos, using their personal stories as a mirror to reflect on the great weight of responsibility carried by Gogos in South Africa over generations.