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“I am a mother to myself, my siblings and also to our father”

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Minor children care for their paralysed father in one-room shack

Photo of three people sitting on a bed in a shack
Thembile Funda, who is paralysed, is cared for by his children – 14-year-old Akhelethu (closest) and 10-year-old Skholise (at the back). Photo: Chris Gilili
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A stroke in December last year left Thembile Funda, a 35-year-old father of three, paralysed in his right arm and leg. It is now up to his young children to care for him in their one-room shack in Mahlangeni, Duncan Village, in East London.

Funda’s 14-year-old daughter, Akhelethu, and his son ten-year-old, Skholise, take turns washing him in bed. His eight-year-old son, Achumile, ties his father’s shoelaces.

“I feel very broken, as a man,” says Funda. “It is painful watching myself being useless, to a point where I cannot even wash myself. I can’t even eat on my own … Even going to the toilet, they help me.”

“She was the only person whom I thought would help look after me,” he says of the mother of his children. “She doesn’t even bother coming here [anymore]. Even my sisters have been distant from me now.”

Akhelethu, who is in grade 7, says she is struggling at school. “I cannot concentrate … because I am worried if my father has eaten, since he can’t even make food for himself [and] if he is safe, because crime is very rife.”

“We are ashamed of even telling our teachers at school. They do not know how we live at home. Last week I missed two days of school because our father was not feeling well,” says Akhelethu.

The family survives on Funda’s disability grant of R1,700 per month. Most of it goes to loan sharks.

In the shack there is a double bed standing on crates, a small wardrobe and a room divider with a small television set.

Most of the time, it is Akhelethu who cooks for the family, though Skholise has started to help. She makes crumbly maize meal (umphokoqo) and samp and beans. The pots stand on the floor because there is no cupboard to store them.

“I just fell down inside this shack last year and lost conscious, and woke up in Frere Hospital the following day … I don’t know what happened because I have no background of being sick,” says Funda.

He now depends on a wheelchair and says he wishes for a shack closer to the road with easier access to the communal toilets. There have also been shack fires in the closely built neighbourhood and Funda says he would struggle to escape the flames if a fire broke out where he now lives.

Ward 2 councillor Ntombizandile Mhlola was made aware of the family’s situation last week by a neighbour of the Fundas. “I will try by any means to make sure I knock on the relevant doors that can assist this family. Because the situation is not conducive, especially for the children,” said Mhlola.

Spokesperson for the Department of Social Development Gcobani Maswana said,”I will notify the East London district office to send a social worker responsible for the Duncan Village area. She will do an assessment to check the whole situation at the Funda family, and see what measures are fit to be taken.”

Meanwhile, Akhelethu says, “I remain strong, because I am a mother to myself, my siblings and also to our father as well.”

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TOPICS:  Disability Rights Housing

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