Women of hope and strength

Tessa van Staden

Cocooned in flannel pyjamas, socks, a duvet and blankets it usually takes a while for the alarm to pierce my dreamless sleep. Unwrapping myself like a mummy I reach for the phone, my fingers clumsily failing to slide the screen into action. That arduous task completed I stumble down the dawn-lit passage to switch on the kettle. Nothing happens until the first gulp of caffeine hits.

My husband often jokes about my not being a morning person. He’s awake immediately. Unfortunately my dazed state lasts until after I’ve had a shower. When we finally get to school my daughter insists that we stop, en route to the class, to greet the ducks that live nearby. That ritual happens regardless of whether it’s raining or hailing, or whether we’re battling a Southeaster.

On one recent wintry and blustery Tuesday, we drove past a woman who was carrying a curly-haired little girl. I noticed the two because it was early, cold and drizzling. I assumed they were on their way to a crèche or day care facility, because the mother was also carrying a bright pink backpack, her shoulders hunched slightly forward under the weight and her jacket billowing behind her.

I said a quick prayer thanking my lucky stars for the warmth of the car, its steel exterior shielding us from the elements.

But I have a lot more to be grateful for.

I have a husband who shares the parenting duties and who cooks. His flexible schedule enables me to work late without feeling guilty or torn. His support means I’m able to focus at the office while feeling loved, knowing I have a base. We’re both employed which means we’re able to afford both a good pre-school for our daughter and additional child care, when needed. I may mope about getting up early but I know I’m lucky to do so after having slept in a warm bed and having enough to eat.

Thousands of women across our country don’t even have the basics, let alone a supportive partner or the resources to continue developing themselves while raising a family.

Working in the news industry in the Western Cape means I’m often confronted with stories of child abuse, neglect, abandonment and disappearances. It’s easy to judge.

I remember my own reaction when our newsroom learnt, last year that a 28-year-old woman had apparently chained her young child to a bed in Sir Lowry’s Pass Village while she went to work. In the summer heat, the shack became a sauna. How could someone like that call herself a mother? I was appalled. I was disgusted.

When Babalwa Mkhosana appeared in court she said she couldn’t afford child care and didn’t want her son to walk around the community unattended. So she chained him to a bed because she needed to earn some money.

Of course I don’t condone that decision. I don’t really understand her motives were. But I have tried to imagine myself in her position and I wonder what I would have done, given her circumstances and options. If she didn’t go to work in order to stay with her children, would she have been berated and criticized for not providing for her family, for lacking the drive to improve their lives?

As the country marks Women’s Day, spare a thought for the thousands of mothers, grannies, aunts, sisters and daughters who have to make debilitating decisions amid harsh surroundings, without support or any material comfort. In spite of this, many of these women still care for others, smile at passers-by, beautify their surroundings and dream of a better future for their loved ones. They spend their lives caring, advising, teaching, praying, loving, nursing, worrying, planning.

As long as our country and our continent are home to such women, there’s hope.

Tessa van Staden is the EWN Deputy News Editor in Cape Town. Follow her on Twitter @Tessvstaden