Mukekete's Brave Soul: The Maria Mutango Story

15 May 2016 13:30pm

By Sawi Hausiku-Lutibezi

RUNDU, 15 MAY (NAMPA) - It’s a heartbreaking sight – a woman crawling through the grass near the Rundu-Nkurenkuru road, supported by her son who is just two years old.
Many people who use this road have also seen the two rickety huts some 100 metres from the road at Mukekete village in the Tondoro Constituency. This is what Maria Ndara Mutango and her two children – the other a girl aged five – call home.
Just like any other person, Maria dreamt of living a good life but all that changed five years ago when she lost the use of her legs.
She recalls how she had gone to wash her family’s clothes and collect water from the Kavango River. On her way back her legs started going numb. She fell to the ground.
Terrified and in excruciating pain, she forced herself to crawl to the road where she could get a lift to the Rundu State Hospital to seek help.
Before this ordeal, Maria was diagnosed HIV-positive.
A doctor at the Rundu State Hospital, Dr Chantal Nyembo explains that the paralysis could be attributed to her being HIV-positive, adding that the virus can lead to opportunistic diseases such as Tuberculosis.
In Maria’s case, Dr Nyembo says it could be an infection which affecter her brain, causing the paralysis. Another cause could be severe meningitis, also an opportunistic disease which could have affected her brain.
The father of her children lives in Mukekete but abandoned the family when Maria became disabled. He too is unemployed.
Approaching the huts – if they can be called that – one gets a sense of the hopeless situation Maria finds herself in.
Part of a community but somehow isolated, the structures have no walls and can thus barely provide shelter to the family of three. The floors are bare earth. Beds and bedding are a luxury – in fact just the fact that they make it through the rain, wind and thunderstorms is a miracle.
Maria is not at home when this reporter visits. Neighbours say she crawled to a shebeen some 50 metres away where she drowns her sorrows in traditional beer.
Here she can be found in the company of other villagers – with her children on her lap.
At first she is hesitant to talk, but after her companions put her at ease, she speaks.
When asked if she was born this way, tears fill Maria’s eyes as she recalls the day she took her last steps and what followed thereafter.
Her mother is still alive but it appears as if her family has given up on her. Many other acquaintances also shun her – some due to stigmatisation, a problem which is not uncommon in Namibia and in Maria’s case is twofold because of her HIV status and disability.
With no family to lean on, Maria is solely responsible for her children’s care so they go everywhere she goes.
If someone takes pity on them, they are lucky enough to get some food and clothing.
“Sometime we go up to a week without food,” a downcast Maria says.
Crawling to the river for water is also an ordeal, and if nobody thinks of bringing them water, the small family of three go without.
On a good day, she weaves baskets, selling the bigger ones for N.dollars 50. If she can only manage a small basket she asks her customer to fill it with mahangu so they can have something to eat.
“I now try to be consistent with weaving baskets as it is the only source of income for me. I have realised that when I do not weave, we go hungry,” she adds.
Maria says at least amongst her companions at the shebeen, she feels accepted and as if she is part of the community.
Her biggest dream is to own her own identification document which would help her to qualify for the social grant for vulnerable people, or a disability grant.
Nampa approached the councillor of the Tondoro Constituency, Joseph Sivaku, who said he is not aware of Maria and her struggles. He also wanted to know where her family is and said people in similar conditions have previously said they do not own identification documents but when you take them to the Ministry of Home Affairs their story changes.
The councillor said he had arranged with the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration at least twice before to issue birth certificates at Sikopo Combined School in the Kavango West Region, which is the closest point for many to reach in the constituency.
“I do not know how she was missed by the council,” he said.
Meanwhile, a woman by the name of Rita Wayera Simpire who stays not far from Maria wanted to know why people should suffer like this while Government has created laws and policies to address the problems of people living with disabilities.
“People in communities like ours suffer the most. They often struggle to access hospitals, get their children to school and obtain employment. The only thing that makes Maria different is her physical ability, but society makes her feel like a second-class citizen,” she said.
Some of her relatives live a few metres away from her. Mutango's younger sister Helena Sikongo says she took them in for about a year, but claims that her sister can be very stubborn and hardly takes advice.
She says Maria would sometimes just disappear from the house and she would then look for her all over the village. At times she would find her at a shebeen.
Other times, on her way home from the shebeen she would fall asleep outside and would be found lying in the grass with her children.
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare’s chief social worker in the Kavango West Region, Brenda Mwiya says the ministry has to facilitate the process for Maria to acquire identification documents. Only once she has these documents would she be able to receive a social grant. The ministry would then also be able to assess whether her children should be taken into foster care.
Mwiya promised to pay the small family a visit to see what they go through firsthand.
Meanwhile, Maria Mutango and her two children somehow make it from day to day – by some miracle.