Nestled deep in the heart of the Kweneng District, roughly 40 kilometres from Molepolole village, Mosekele lands is the home to a woman rumoured to have been born in 1901.
If true, it would make Tabolokwane Molatlhegi 117. It would also make her the oldest person in the world, an honour that currently belongs to 115-year-old Japanese national, Kane Tanaka.
Skeptical of the rumours but desperate to meet this ancient elder, The Voice’s intrigued reporter made the bumpy journey along the sandy road from Mogonono Settlements to the sleepy site of Mosekele.
It does not take long to locate her; everyone at the lands knows where the woman they fondly refer to as ‘ke letsopa’ (the real brand) lives.
Widowed 24 years ago, Molathlegi spends most of her time with her daughter, in the younger woman’s crumbling mud hut, located a fair distance from their nearest neighbours.
The walls are badly cracked and there is an opening evident at the top of the thatched roof. Indeed, although she describes her bones as ‘weary’, the old woman looks in much better health than her daughter’s dilapidated home.
Despite her rapidly fading eyesight and the fact that she is restricted to crawling to get around, Molathlegi is surprisingly cheery.
Her bent fingers are swollen with arthritis, but she proudly reveals she can still hold a spoon to feed herself and is able to chew her food with the few teeth she has left.
“I am happy today, I am better than other days. I sometimes experience pains all over my body, especially on the shoulders and waist,” she says, speaking in a firm, steady tone.
“I also only have difficulties in hearing, I can only hear clearly when you speak up,” the old woman adds, a mischievous twinkle sparkling in her cataract-heavy eyes, which are barely visible amidst her wrinkled face.
Displaying a feisty spirit which has no doubt helped her survive for so long, Molathlegi says she gets offended by people who visit her to offer their condolences.
“How can you offer condolences to someone who is still alive?” she asks rhetorically, shaking her head in bemusement.
“I do not like being taken to the hospital, travelling troubles me as later on I spend sleepless nights with non-stop pains. I am old and I only want to stay in Mosekele, it is my home I do not have any other place to stay, I plead for those who can assist to support me,” she adds in a low voice, pausing her narrative as she stretches her legs, an action that brings her obvious relief and causes her to sigh with pleasure.
Nicknamed ‘Omontle’ by her relatives, Molathlegi spends most of her days sitting on her mat, lying on her side to rest.
She does not have a toilet and nowhere to fetch water. The family depend entirely on a borehole, located some distance from their home.
They have to pay P5 for a bucket of water, which they carry back by balancing expertly on their head.
The old woman’s younger brother, Lengapa Ramphokgo, tells The Voice Molathlegi is in desperate need of help and pleaded for her to be assisted with food the government provide to the destitute.
“We have long suffered for her to be provided with food since 1994 after the passing of her husband. The social workers once came for assessment but when we think they will start giving her food, we are told she needs to be reassessed; imagine a pensioner aged like her,” Ramphokgo fumes in disgust.
Village Development Community (VDC) representative Segomotso Barileng also voiced her concern that social workers had long failed to assist Molathlegi.
The old woman’s last born daughter, Nnanakwena Ramokaleng, 55, whose two children have long passed away and who has nothing to sustain her, revealed they are solely reliant on their mother’s old age pension for survival.
“I cannot look for a job because I am always looking after my mum; she needs 24-hour care. For her to bath I put her on another mat as I cannot lift her up alone. That is also not easy and she always complains of getting tired and feeling cold,” said Ramokaleng, who is close to tears at the situation.
Fortunately good Samaritans Limkokwing Faculty of Communication, Media and Broadcasting students identified Molatlhegi and built a one-roomed house for her.
Her family hope more generous acts will follow suit soon.