By Annalise Kempen
Many adults have fond memories of their grandparents - visiting them during holidays, being treated with sweets or sitting on their laps listening to numerous stories. This picture has changed in many communities where, in recent times, grandparents increasingly have been taking over the primary care responsibility of their grandchildren due to absent parents who either work in cities or have died due to the HIV pandemic. How ironic and tragic is it not that society is increasingly showing less respect for our elderly by abusing and mistreating them - especially since those are the people towards whom we often have so much to be grateful.
At the end of January 2018, the community of Mpophomeni location in Emagwababeni, Pietermaritzburg protested outside the Howick Magistrates' Court demanding that no bail be granted for a 39-year-old man accused of raping and strangling a grandmother who, according to her family, was 107 years old. This gogo was allegedly found by neighbours lying helplessly on her kitchen floor with strangle marks on her neck, but still breathing. Her granddaughter told the media that the suspect had allegedly broken into her grandmother’s house, gaining access through a window. This happened while her sister, Zinhle, and her friend were sleeping. “He raped gogo on her bed. Zinhle woke up when she heard gogo screaming for help. While gogo was screaming for help he strangled Zinhle. She passed out. He went to Zinhle’s friend and tried to strangle her but she managed to run out of the house. Neighbours came in to help. Gogo was lying on the kitchen floor. They helped her to the sofa. She asked for water and died,” said the shocked granddaughter (Ngubane, 2018).
Not an isolated incident
Tragically, the abuse and rape of this 107-year-old gogo from Pietermaritzburg was not an isolated incident. In fact, criminal incidents at residential facilities for older persons and old age homes are not uncommon. At the end of August 2017, the Apricot old age home in Bonteheuwel on the Cape Flats was vandalised by heartless criminals who had broken into the home and vandalised the community hall used by the pensioners. The caretaker got a shock when she passed the hall early the following morning and noticed water running - that’s when she realised that taps and other items had been stolen. Upon inspection it was revealed that the criminals had apparently made a hole in the fence, ripped the alarm box open and deactivated the alarm. The home, which is run by the City of Cape Town, is used by pensioners who receive social grants and who do not have relatives with whom they can stay. As one can expect, this incident left the pensioners feeling vulnerable with one of the 73-year-old residents saying: “Now the gangsters are coming in. It is not safe for us here.” The home’s caretaker believed that “Tikkoppe” (methamphetamine addicts) were responsible for the crime and she urged the community to come forward with any information which could lead to their arrest (Duval, 2017).
Sadly, very few of these cases where older persons fall victim to crime are reported. In fact, the World Health Organisation (2017 and 2018) estimates that only one in 24 cases of elder abuse is reported, although one in six older persons would have experienced some form of abuse in the past year (WHO Elder Abuse Factsheet, June 2017 and January 2018).
In addition to the specific forms of abuse defined and discussed in the Older Persons Act 13 of 2006 (see below), Ferreira and Lindgren (2008) write that the definition of elder abuse is complicated in that older persons have been encouraged, in a series of consultations, to report practises they perceive as abusive, which have shaped some definitions. However, within the South African context, where violence is not uncommon, forms of abuse include the horrific rape of older women by sons and grandsons in order to extort pension money and their social grants. Allegations of witchcraft against frail and vulnerable older women in order to seize assets, both which have severe consequences for the women, are also common.