I kick the dirt into swirls and squint against the midday light that screams into my eye sockets. In a matter of seconds my leg has become home base – the safe zone to which dusty little bodies cling, as their maatjies in pursuit run rings around my shadow. One brave soul makes his approach into the neutral zone my pants seem to offer, which scatters my little flock back into the swirls of dust. In front of me a dozen or so kids make a pile of rocks their playground. Behind me the older kids linger under corrugated rooftops that promise relief from the scorching sun. I hone in on the wall draped with lethargic bodies. A little girl sits on the ground rubbing the knob of her amputated leg, and I wonder whether to be sad she lost a leg or grateful she could have the operation. Babies cry; children giggle; dust swirls; my heart breaks.
It’s my first visit to Tshwaraganang, a place of safety in Hammanskraal. I meet Mama Cathrine, who greets me, dries a child’s tear, answers a question, pats a back, and issues a verbal warning demonstrative enough to make me come to attention, all in the span of ten seconds. She is a no-nonsense lady, and I can’t help thinking that God, in all his wisdom and foreknowledge, confirmed his destiny for Mama Cathrine in her bosom – wide enough to bear the embrace of countless broken hearts. She shows us through the dormitory rooms. It doesn’t take a genius to do the maths and realise that a cold, hard floor in here is a better alternative to a bed out there for some. I’m a mom of three; Mama Cathrine is a mom to 75