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Who looks after the children?

Every day thousands and thousands of mothers leave the townships to go to work. Many of them leave small children behind.

Who looks after the children of working mothers? Lucky mothers leave their children with their grandmothers. But other women must pay. They send their children to the ‘magogo’ who look after many children.

Learn and Teach went to visit one of the ‘magogo’ who stay behind in the township with the babies. Her name is Mma Mosadi and she lives in Mapetla Extension, Soweto Mma Mosadi told us a little about her life and her work.


Mma Mosadi started looking after children a long time ago. “In my day,” said Mma Mosadi, “women did not go to school – not like the women of today. So jobs for women were hard to find.

“I was lucky. I got a job with some white people, working as a nanny. But when I had children of my own, I left my job. I stayed at home and looked after my own children.”


“I moved into Mapetla Extension with my family when it was first built. Like most new places, there was nowhere for working mothers to leave their children. The closest nursery school was Tshireletso, in Phiri.

“People tried to get their children into Tshireletso but soon Tshireletso was full. So, some people came to me. They knew that I was once a nanny. They asked me if I would look after their children.

“I agreed to help – but we all thought that I would only look after them for a short time. We thought that the government would soon build a creche for the people of Mapetla Extension.”


“I started with 42 children. Looking after them was no easy job. My house is very small. In the afternoon, when it was time for the children to sleep, they had to sleep everywhere – in the kitchen, in the dining room and in the bedrooms. You could not move because there were sleeping children everywhere.

“The most difficult thing was trying to feed forty two children at the same time. Children do not understand about waiting, especially if they are hungry. So my children had to help me when they came back from school.”

That was a long time ago – in 1972. Today there is still no creche or nursery school in Mapetla. The council gave Mma Mosadi a stand for a creche. But there is no money for a building.


“Today I am tired. I am fifty one years old,” Mma Mosadi said. “I cannot look after so many children anymore. So now I only have twenty.

“Even looking after twenty children is hard work. But I enjoy it -1 love my children. People laugh, but love is very important. Children do not grow big and healthy if they do not have love and care.”

It was easy to see that what Mma Mosadi said was true. While she was talking, an older child, Tumi, tried to take away a small child’s toy. The small child started to cry. Soon all the children were crying.

But Mma Mosadi did not shout at them to shut up. Instead, she picked up two, and gave the others milk. Then she spoke softly to them and soon everyone was quiet.


You can also see that Mma Mosadi looks after the children well. Some children are short and others are tall. But they are all fat. “I am happy that they are all fat and healthy,” said Mma Mosadi. “But sometimes I wish they ate less. “I am paid R10 a week for every child. I use this money to buy their food. But their food is expensive -GST is killing us. And at the end of the week I do not know how much I am left with.”

“But small children must eat well. I give them lots of milk. The babies get ‘motoho’ and I make sure that the older children eat lots of vegetables.”


“I have no starting time or ‘tshaile’ time,” said Mma Mosadi. “Some mothers bring their children at half past five in the morning. They do this because they must go to work very early.

“And other mothers only fetch their children at seven o’clock in the evening, when they come back from work.

“So, I must wake up early in the morning, and I go to sleep very late. And if I am sick, I must still have the children. I can’t say to the mothers, ‘Sorry, not today.’ What can they do? They have nowhere else to leave their children.”


“Some mothers have a hard time. One woman brought her three week old baby to me. This is not good – such a small baby must be with her mother. But the poor woman had to go back to work, otherwise she would lose her job. Then she would have no money to look after her baby.

“Most babies are about six months when they come here. And they stay with me until they are about three or four years old. Some go to nursery school. But others stay with me longer. I have one boy who is five years old.”


“I cannot play around with the children now. I am too old. But my younger daughter, Rebecca, helps a lot. She plays with the children when she comes home from school.

She teaches them rhymes. Sometimes she takes her old exercise books and the children draw in them. She even tries to teach the older children to write.”

While Mma Mosadi was talking, she started to mix some powdered milk with warm water. We thought we were going to enjoy a nice cup of tea. But no! That milk was for the children. And we wished that we were children too.


Mma Mosadi ended by saying, “People must understand that creches are very important. Women cannot work with a peaceful mind if there is no safe place to leave their children.”

Maybe one day the government will listen to the words of Mma Mosadi. Maybe they will build creches for the children of this country – in the towns and in the countryside. Maybe they will even build creches at the factories where mothers work – so working mothers can take their babies to work with them, if they want to.

In the meantime, ‘magogo1 like Mma Mosadi, who have little space and little money, must look after our children. What would we do without them?


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