One small step for Susa. There are many heroines in Diepsloot; one of them is Susan Mboniswa.
She joined our Wot-If? Women’s Empowerment group about six months ago and has flourished as a crafter. During our crafting sessions together inside the Father Louis Blondel Centre where I work, we learn about each other in an unhurried but meaningful manner, as what we do is conducive to calm and appropriate sharing, when the moment arises.
Once we were reflecting on our work with a special volunteer, Danny, who raised the issue that, as women, we are designed for creativity because our bodies produce children. Unfortunately, for Danny, and for some of the women in the group, our precious creations are sometimes taken from us cruelly, leaving us wounded and suffering for a long time. I shared with the group the sad loss of Danny’s young son and Susan cried about the loss of her own son and daughter-in-law in a car accident. Consequently, she, a grandmother in her late sixties, is raising three grandchildren, between the ages of 7 and 16, in between caring for other grandchildren whom she had brought to our sessions in the past. She does this with difficulty as money is scarce, but with great dignity, love and wisdom. From her I have learnt some incredible things about township life. She told me that her granddaughter (who is 16) is kind and helpful, because Susan taught her that when things are tough there is no time to be a difficult teenager. Yes you can be human, but you cannot be indulgent with your emotions because your circumstances require you to be mature and responsible. Wow! As a mother and a teacher in privileged schools I often accepted difficult teenager behaviour, excused it, and even accepted it as being normal. Is this indulgence one of the prices of privilege? Do we, in more affluent environments, perhaps foster some negative traits in our youth just because we can?
Recently, Susan attended the Shine programme at our Father Louis Blondel Centre. This Australian programme (yet another good thing from Australia??) teaches women about their worth, their strength and their purpose. While I think Susan understands most of these concepts innately, it was interesting to hear her feedback a few weeks later. As a result of the course, she and her sister (who also raises some of her grandchildren) decided to take the Easter weekend off. After making alternative arrangements for the children, they got together and went to church, took long walks together in Diepsloot, spoke and laughed together. They had been alerted to the fact, through the programme, that they were special, and were entitled to some time to take care of themselves. In our western lifestyles we are reminded of this frequently in self- help books, by each other and by advertising. But for these two ladies, it was a first. A simple investment of time in themselves. When I saw Susan’s eyes shining as she relived her weekend, I was conscious of a number of things… firstly, the levels of sacrifice that Susan has had to make in her life. I knew that at Christmas time last year, Susan had stayed alone in Diepsloot, while she sent her grandchildren to her brother in Limpopo. She accepted that there was no money for her transport to accompany them. She rarely, or ever, has time for herself. I was aware too, that the simple experience of spending meaningful time with her sister was a treat; many people take these simple pleasures for granted.
This is just one of the gogo’s I work with regularly. They are warm, kind, dignified and strong. And what a life they have had! They suffered through apartheid, missed out on education and, now that they are past the difficult and challenging years of rearing their own children, a host of hardships, such as HIV, leave them rearing the next generation. Tragically, most financial donors are not interested in these women as they are seen as being too old to be skilled and they would rather invest their money in women below the age of 40. For me, these ladies are the forgotten generation.
There may not be a magic wand to change Susan’s life. Her Easter weekend may not seem much to many, but to her, it was significant as it was a step towards honouring the amazing woman that she is. Shine on, Susan… I salute you and your sisters.