Dr Heese loves to tell the story of the man with no hand who came to apply to the rural KwaZulu-Natal hospital for a Disability Grant. He told Dr Heese, superintendent of Mosveld hospital, that his hand had been cut off by his father in a fight. But, says Dr Heese, the man had no defensive wounds and it was a clean cut and it was too late to re-attach the hand. So now that man gets a disability grant of about R1000 a month. Dr Heese is convinced he cut off his own hand.
Many people here in this poor community, Ingwavuma, try to get a disability grant when the doctors assess if they qualify. This bothers Dr Heese, no end, because he says people are trying to buck the system. He calls it “milking the white cow”. I asked two Mosveld health-care workers, who come from this desperately poor community, what they think about returning home as paid professionals. They both complained that relatives tried to pressure them to sign off disability grants to people who didn’t qualify.
Dr Heese spends hours hunched over his computer with his data at night, recording which community members get grants from which doctors and which don’t. He says the system is so vague, despite Dept of Social Welfare Guidelines and needs to be standardised. For example, because there is no water and the women and children have to walk miles carrying heavy water buckets, they get Osteo Arthritis in their knees or backs at young ages. Then they try and apply for a disability grant. Some succeed depending on how kind the doctor signing off the disability grant feels and some fail because OA in one’s knees is technically not a disability. This is according to Dr Heese’s data. Although walking for water and farming is a physical way of life so OA could be a disability, argues the local physiotherapist who hails from the area. Each hospital in this rural area has a different way of signing off disability grants making it a rather unclear system.
My dad has OA in his knee but that’s from running the Comrades and many other races, not fetching water and so I don’t think he would quite fit the grant profile. Especially as he is still speed walking for fun and had an MRI to diagnose the OA, which means he is not poor enough. Actually my grandfather has had Arthritis for years and he is still working at 82.
But let me introduce you to Nosipho (not her real name) and her family who live in Ingwavuma in a small concrete house that her dad built using money from a DG grant. It has a sandy dirt yard, a small vegetable garden and no water or electricity. Nosipho is 19 and has a 13-month-old child who has fluffy hair from malnutrition. She is still trying to finish school.
Outside Nosipho’s house there is big corrugated iron home-made box to store old dry mielies (corn on the cob) harvested in summer. Iron sheets are lying over the mielies to try and protect them from wandering donkeys. When there is no food her mother or her sister will grind those emaciated pale yellow mielies with an old fashioned rusty metal grinder and later make porridge with them. I cannot believe that people eat those dry mielies, that look like they should only be African style eco-decorations. I don’t think donkeys would eat them, seriously. No wonder Nosipho’s sister’s four-year old kid has a big belly- a typical sign of malnourishment.
Nosipho is 19. Her sister is 23. Her little brother with squint eyes is actually her dead sister’s child and he is about 13. Nosipho, her mom, skinny dad, child, older sister and her two kids and the seriously squint one all live off her dad’s disability grant. Her dad can’t see well so he gets a disability grant. That is R1080 a month
On one hand disability grants encourage fake disabilities like OA and self mutilation. On the other hand they keep families like Nosipho’s family alive and provide money for the simplest of things like school pens (read my other blog on pens) or more important things like grey concrete houses. There are no jobs, water for veggies gardens is scarce and it doesn’t rain in winter and Nosipho’s neighbours kept killing her mother’s chickens and eating them. So what else would the family live off if it weren’t for her dad’s eye problems?
PS: They will get child grants soon as Nosipho and her sister have finally applied for ID books after their mother got one recently.
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