WINDHOEK – Instead of enjoying her old age, 72-year-old Veronica Tjivikua’s daily worries are about what her grandchildren will eat.
Her two adolescent grandsons and younger grandchildren look up to Tjivikua and her partner, Usiel Tjiueza, for care.
The mother of ten tells us that her grandchildren’s parents abandoned the children while searching for a better life for themselves. The sad reality is that these children have not seen their parents in many years.
“They gave birth and ran away,” she said of her biological children.
The mother of ten together with her partner Tjiueza are parenting their grandchildren with the hope they would make better choices unlike their biological children.
“We’ve been caring for them since they were babies. They are like our own children,” Tjivikua speaks from her shack in Havana informal settlement’s Kabila section where she lives.
As she relates her hardships, Tjivikua took out N$4 wrapped in a blue cloth from her bra to give the two older boys – Hitjii aged 12 and Uendji aged 15 – who attend afternoon school.
“They started school late because we struggled to register them due to the problem of getting their birth certificates,” Tjivikua explained.
The financial burden upon Tjivikua and her partner is sometimes unbearable, she says.
“N$1,200 is not really enough for us because all we really buy is food and occasionally clothes and shoes for the children to go to school but it is not enough to take us through the month,” adds the pensioner.
Apart from the three grandchildren, three other adults and one minor depend on Tjivikua and Tjiueza to put food on the table.
As she was being interviewed the house was full of small children, some from the neighbours playing in the background.
When there is no money, Tjivikua has to buy food on credit.
“When we get our pension about N$700 has to pay for the debts from the previous month but that’s the only way we can survive,” she said.
In their younger years, Tjivikua and Tjiueza worked on farms in the Okahandja district to make ends meet. But now they are too frail to work and instead depend on social grants for their survival.
“The problem is that some of the children don’t have birth certificates so they can’t get the social grants. We tried looking for their parents but to no avail,” explained Tjivikua, who spoke most of the time while her partner occasionally supported her.
“We can’t even go back to the village at Otjinene because we don’t have any cattle. With cattle, you can sell and get money but since we don’t have cattle there is no difference whether we live here or at the village. We came here because we wanted the children to get an education,” Tjivikua said. Tjiueza added: “We do want to go back to the village but how can we go back if we don’t have any cattle?”
With regard to the cold, Tjivikua said each child is covered with one blanket in addition to her using Otjiherero traditional dresses to cover the grandchildren when they sleep at night to keep the cold at bay.
The blankets are not so much of a problem, Tjivikua stressed.
What worries her is that her grandchildren sometimes have go a day with only one meal.
“As an adult you don’t really care if you’ve not eaten for a day but it’s bad when the little ones are hungry and we can’t feed them,” Tjivikua added. Similarly, Tjivikua’s niece Edla Tjivikua also spoke about her hardships, saying life in the city is hard.
The mother of five children says she works as a domestic worker twice a week.
“At the end of the month I get a wage of about N$800 but that is not really enough because my partner is unemployed and I have to care for my children,” said Edla.
Fortunately, her employer sometimes gives her food which she brings home to feed her children.
“I can only afford to take care of my three children. The other two are with my mother at the village. They depend on her pension grant,” she said. She explained that circumstances have forced her to depend on her mother to care for the two children even though she is an adult.
On days she is not working, Edla mostly cares for her children, does chores or basks in the sun.
“It’s difficult to not have a job,” Tjivikua added.
The Councillor of Moses //Garoëb Constituency, Martin David, when contacted for comment said: “I don’t feel well that old people are left with the responsibility of caring for children while the parents disappear.”
David explained that his office is responsible for assisting people such as Tjivikua by tracing the children’s biological parents to assist with birth certificates. “This is a problem countrywide. They should come to my office for assistance,” said David.