News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Thursday September 19th 2019

At 12, boy cares for parents

12-year-old Ntsikelelo has been looking after his parents Nceba Kwinana and Nomzama Bharhu for the last six years. Photo: Nombulelo Damba/WCN

When you’re 12-years-old, your parents normally take care of you. But Ntsikelelo Bharhu is the one doing the caring – and he’s been doing it since he was six. Ntsikelelo’s mom and dad have both had strokes that have left them unable to care for themselves properly.With no brothers and sisters, Ntsikelelo, who is studying grade 7 at Entwasahlobo Primary in Khayelitsha, has to look after his parents by himself.

He said for as long as he can remember, his father has been an invalid due to a stroke, and his mother used to take care of him.

But then six years ago another disaster struck the household. His mother also suffered a disabling stroke.

Now both parents are confined to wheelchairs. His father has some use in his hands but often has difficulty controlling his muscles resulting in his hands shaking uncontrollably.

His mother lost the use of the right side of her body and can only use her left hand, but is able to lift herself out of her wheelchair into a seat.

“It was so hard for me because I was very young. I couldn’t go out with other kids. I always had to sit at home to watch my parents,” said Ntsikelelo.

Nonetheless, he said his mother always encouraged him to have friends and go to school, and over time he has got used to looking after his parents.

Twice a month he pushes his parents to the hospital about 100m from their shack in the Y informal settlement for check-ups.

“Lucky they have separate dates,” he says, other wise he would face the prospect of trying to push two wheelchairs at the same time.

“Sometimes my neighbours would help, the wheelchairs are very old and it’s hard to push them in the sand.”

Ntsikelelo’s father, Nceba Kwinana, 62, said he had his first stroke in July 2000.

“My wife used to help me but things changed when she got a stroke in 2006. We’ve been staying together for 14 years now and God blessed us with a son. We help each other when Ntsikelelo is at school. Who ever feels better will cook and we wash each others back. The most difficult time is when I have to go to the toilet and no one is around.”

There are no toilets in the informal settlement. Residents, including Ntsikelelo’s parents, have to use a bucket and throw the contents out at the railway line, or pay R1 to use the public toilets near the settlement.

Ntsikelelo’s mother Nomzamo Bharhu, 52, said life was “very hard”.

She said they survived on their disability pensions but she had to spend money to hire a car to get the payout every month.

Daily ablutions were one of the things that they had the most difficulty dealing with.

“We rely on people so we can go to the toilet,” said Nomzamo.

She said sometimes while Ntsikelelo was at school they would shout for help, but if a neighbour did not hear them they would soil themselves and “Ntsikelelo would have to clean up the mess”.

She said sometimes Nceba’s paternal grandmother or one his other relatives on his father’s side visited them, but none of her relatives visited, despite the fact that her uncle lived in Khayelitsha.

A member of the Y informal settlement residents’ task team, Nosakhele Ntlontlo, said she knew of the family.

“My job is to go to each an every house in this area and check who is sick. When I got there Nomzamo was cooking. She can hardly move. They’re both stuck in old wheelchairs covered with plastic. Neighbours do help sometimes.” – Nombulelo Damba, West Cape News

Tags: Disability, informal settlement, Khayelitsha

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