“Hawu! You are still alive, Mama Nkabinde!” exclaimed blind septuagenarian Khanyakude Zitha, who recognised Isabel Nkabinde by her voice as the two shook hands at the KwaMashu Christian Care Society.
“I know her voice. The Lord has blessed you so much, Nkabinde. We are waiting for the day [to die],” said the 75-year-old Zitha, who has been at the centre for a decade.
She is one of 84 elderly people being cared for at the society thanks to Nkabinde, popularly known as Gogo Nkabinde, who founded the home more than three decades ago.
When Nkabinde, 93, shows up at the only home for frail and elderly people in Durban’s second-biggest township, KwaMashu, everybody clamours for her attention and their faces brighten as she greets them.
Nkabinde is one of the pioneering women who founded the KwaMashu Christian Care Society in 1984.
It was officially opened by IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, then the chief minister of the now-defunct KwaZulu government. Back then she worked closely with other founding members, including the late Zamazulu Nkosi, who became the first black matron in KwaZulu-Natal.
Although she is now frail herself, and uses a walking stick, she is still feisty and very passionate about the work she started with others nearly 30 years ago.
Nkabinde and the late founding members were inspired to start the KwaMashu Christian Care Society by their compassion and desire to help sick, frail and elderly people .
Seeing that many frail and elderly people who came to the KwaMashu Polyclinic as outpatients were in a pitiful condition – dirty, hungry, ill and sometimes with bedsores infested with maggots – was what touched Nkabinde and Nkosi, who headed the polyclinic.
“We had old people coming to the clinic and we used to do a follow-up on them just to see if they were taking their medication, and to see the conditions they were staying in,” said Nkabinde.
Deeply concerned by what they saw, Nkosi suggested that they put these people together in a loving environment as they needed special care. And the long-term solution was to build an old-age home.
“But we did not have money,” said Nkabinde, a former nurse.
A Good Samaritan in the form of Professor Sam Ross, who was a member of the Berea Rotary Club, managed to raise R300 000, and that was the birth of the KwaMashu Christian Care Society in 1981.
Sadly, Ross died in February last year.
The home started with 80 gogos but now has 84 – down from a peak of 150 after the departments of health and social development advised the centre to reduce the number because of social reasons.
Today, the centre has three departments: the frail centre, an outreach unit, and a crèche with 260 children.
The outreach department, overseen by two co-ordinators and a social worker, has 13 centres which give out food parcels every month.
Supervisors in these centres cook meals three times a week – on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays – and old people come there to eat.
Elderly people who are sick are transported to hospital in an ambulance donated by Pamodzi Investment Holdings.
The home also has a minibus taxi to take residents to various entertainment venues.
“This is the only home for the elderly in the community of KwaMashu. It’s such a beautiful story,” said Nkabinde.
The home, which has six wards, has four nursing sisters, eight staff nurses, four nursing assistants and 16 caregivers.
Nkabinde recalled how her lifetime helper and friend, Mary England, brought the first 10kg of maize meal to be cooked at the home.
“Everybody used to contribute. We shared cooking among us. At about 7am we used to be at the KwaMashu Men’s Hostel to provide food.”
She also recalled how they used to organise dinners to raise money for the home by selling tickets.
“We would have that dinner in the town. Sometimes we would raise about R400 000.”
Among the people who opened their hearts to the home was Epainette Mbeki, the former president’s late mother, who donated curtains.
While the home receives help from the Department of Social Development, which gives R2300 a month per resident, this is not enough and it desperately needs more funding.
The home desperately needs funding to keep afloat as the money it has is not enough to cover needs such as electricity, food, medication and linen. it also needs 60 beds, linen and curtains for the new building which has only 20 beds at present. Donors willing to help the home can phone 031-503-4434.