An orphan called Mercy
uBuntu in action
Mercy (n) - something to be grateful for (From the 2006 Concise Oxford Dictionary)
Mercy is also the name of a young woman who would seem, on the face of it, not to have too much to be grateful for herself.
One thing she does have to be grateful for is the kindness of Amos Sibanda, the beggar whose life is slowly being turned around into a positive place with the help of Ms Isabel Wagner and the Amost Better Life Foundation that she started in order to help Amos. Amos's story is the subject of the Hub "A better life for a beggar."
Mercy had been working as a child minder for a family in the township of Mamelodi, next door to Amos and his family.
The child Mercy was minding, however, reached an age when Mercy's services were no longer needed and so she no longer had a job or a place to stay.
Amos and his wife Gracious took Mercy into their modest home, in the true spirit of uBuntu, or African humanism. This was in December of 2008.
Since then Gracious herself lost her own second baby, called George, who was still-born earlier this April.
Mercy was born on 19 August 1994 somewhere in the South African province of kwaZulu-Natal, often simply called "KZN."
Mercy doesn't know where she was born exactly, and has no memory at all of her parents, because her mother died not long after Mercy was born, either of full-blown AIDS, or of one of the many opportunistic diseases that often attack people who are HIV-positive. We don't know and perhaps never will.
Mercy came to Pretoria in the company of a woman who she called her sister, but who was most likely not a blood relative at all. this woman worked in the same house that Mercy was employed in and when that family moved, Mercy's "sister" left Pretoria to go to Johannesburg in search of better employment, leaving Mercy with Amos and Gracious.
I met Mercy recently at the home of Isabel Wagner to try to get her story, to try to understand what life is like for one of the estimated 1.2 to 3.4 million AIDS orphans in South Africa.
Mercy is a quiet, seemingly self-assured young woman whose tranquil exterior must hide a seething mass of confusion, fear and doubt.
Unfortunately Mercy's story is not an unusual one, except in one regard - she has been taken in by sympathetic and caring people, not left to fend for herself in a hostile world.
A bureaucratic limbo
In South Africa during the apartheid years it was very common for births among the rural African people not to be registered. They generally lived far away from the offices of the Department of Home Affairs which is responsible for all citizen's information like births and deaths. So the cost and inconvenience of registering a birth was not offset by any perceived benefits and people just went on with their lives. After all, it doesn't take a piece of paper to tell me I am alive, does it?
In the new, democratic South Africa, however, the lack of a birth certificate has become a huge disadvantage.
With a birth certificate a person cannot vote, cannot claim disability grants or old age pensions, or obtain that very important document in South Africa, the Identity Document, usually referred to as the ID Book.
This document opens many doors, enables a citizen to participate fully in all kinds of bureaucratic things, and without it one is relegated to a sort of limbo, a shadowy non-existence, because one is not recognised by the bureaucracy as a person at all.
This is the problem face by Amos, Gracious and Mercy. None of them has a birth certificate and so none of them has an Identity Document, which means that Gracious and Amos can get no official support in their caring for Mercy. A grant is available to people who care for children, but only if they have the recognition of the ID Book.
Living in a shack
Amos and Gracious live in a small shack in the property of a landlord in the Mahobe area of Mamelodi. There are about a dozen other shacks on the property, all paying rent to the landlord. The rents, depending on the size of the shack, are around R700,00 per month. There is no running water in Amos's shack, they have to fetch water from a communal tap some distance away.
The shack itself is not well ventilated and is freezingly cold in winter and boiling hot in summer. Not a comfortable place for two adults, a teenager and a toddler.