Neo Keiditswe was 16 years old when she gave birth for the first time.
It was a sign of things to come.
Now 33, the Molepolole mother-of-nine has spent most of her life pregnant.
Currently bulging with baby number ten, due in December, overwhelmed and broke, Keiditswe is struggling. While her relatives are doing their bit, taking in five of the kids, she desperately needs help.
The young mum first came to The Voice’s attention last month, when she appeared before Molepolole Magistrates’ Court charged with child neglect.
It was the second time she had been accused of such.
At the start of June, she reportedly abandoned the four children she lives with for five days straight, leaving her then 15-month-old twins in the care of their three-year-old sister and brother, aged six.
Although the police let her off with a warning, Keiditswe seemingly slipped up again in August, apparently going AWOL for two days, her young kids left to fend for themselves once more.
This time, the cops were not so understanding.
A case was opened against her and she was hauled before the courts of law.
Intrigued to find out more, The Voice recently visited the ‘suspect’ at Bonewamang ward, where she has taken up residence at her aunt’s two-and-a-half.
We arrive to find the twins crawling about on the floor. Half-naked and without pampers, they seem happy enough, their two older siblings playing next to them.
“Mama re kopa dijo (mum, we are asking for food),” blurts out the boy, staring at his mum with wide-eyed hope.
Her reply that there is nothing to eat has him blinking back tears; it is a response he must have heard many times before, but it still hurts.
“They only ate Tsabana that I requested from my sister in the morning. Now it’s finished and there is nothing they can eat. Sometimes the twin’s father brings a loaf when he gets paid for temporary jobs, but its also difficult for him to find work. He can go weeks without anything; he usually hustles around and if he gets lucky finds something and gets P100,” reveals a glum Keiditswe.
Extra aid came last month, when social workers assisted the family with food packages for the first time, including 5kg of maize meal, rice, sugar and 10kg sorghum – an upshot from her court appearance.
It was not enough.
“The food did not reach the end of the month,” admits Keiditswe.
On top of the lack of food, the struggling mum rarely has soap to wash the children, a situation made worse by the constant water cuts that plague the area. Toiletries are another rare luxury hardly ever found in the house.
With no bed, mother and children sleep on the floor, huddled up together, taking solace and comfort from sharing their misery.
“The blankets are not enough, sometimes we stay in the dark without electricity. It gives me sleepless nights, worrying about everything. It’s difficult to sleep on an empty stomach, and even harder for my babies.”
Life is equally as tough for her other children.
The fifth born, a seven-year-old boy, stays with the grandmother, two more, aged 12 and 11, live with their unemployed father, as does the eldest, who is now 17 and on the edge of manhood. Her 13-year-old daughter was recently taken in by her aunt – the same lady whose house they are currently living in.
“They also depend on me. I usually receive calls when they need food, clothing and toiletry.”
Despite her sorry situation, Keiditswe is adamant life would be better if they were all together.
“My main challenge is food and accommodation. If I can get a place to stay with all my children, that will be better because we will share the little food we can get,” maintains the barefooted mum, who received P500 from social workers on 27th September, money she plans to use to lighten up her children’s Independence.
Having previously tried ploughing the field she was lent by one of her children’s grandmothers, Keiditswe abandoned this plan, forced to leave the lands to come and care for those that were schooling.
Now that she’s pregnant again, she suffers with backache and niggling pains in the waist, which prohibit her from working long hours.
Desperation pushes her to seek piece jobs, meaning she is occasionally forced to leave her kids unattended – the issue which landed her in court and continues on 26th October.
“I don’t know who reported me to the police, no one assists me. I was trying to hustle for my children. Even now, if the twins’ father doesn’t come with a loaf of bread, we are going to sleep hungry. Sometimes he spends a week or more away from home while I’m here with the children, starved,” explains Keiditswe, sporting dry, cracked lips to go with her cracked heels.
After a life spent pregnant, she says baby number ten will be the last.
“I’m wondering who is going to assist me on confinement as baby daddy has to look for piece jobs. I’m planning to stop giving birth after the 10th born. I previously booked to stop birth and failed to attend on the scheduled day as there was no one to remain with the children,” she explains, aptly concluding with a conundrum she faces most days.