South African grannies cross crocodile-infested river to collect old-age pensions

A crocodile attacked Jonah Maturure as he crossed the flooded Chivake River in Zimbabwe, biting off Maturure's testicles and part of his penis.
Credit: Warren Little

JOHANNESBURG — Grandmothers from a village in rural South Africa must risk crossing the crocodile-infested Tugela river every month to collect their old-age pensions, according to a local media report.

It is 30 miles to the nearest bridge, too far to walk for many of the elderly villagers who rely on walking sticks, South African newspaper the Times said. Years of requests for a simple footbridge have been ignored.

So instead, hundreds of grannies from KwaNogawu village, in KwaZulu-Natal province, wake at 5 am on pension day to wade across the raging river, the Times reported.

"In groups of two to five, the grannies cross the uThukela [Tugela] every month to get to the nearest pay point," the newspaper said. "Fear consumes them each time they are about to enter the river."

The river is about 330 feet wide, and the crossing sometimes takes more than half an hour, with the grannies rolling up their clothes to below their breasts and then forming a human chain.

Khethile Kubheka, an 80-year-old grandmother with poor eyesight, told the Times that with old-age pensions as their only source of income, the grannies must make the crossing despite the risk of drowning or being attacked by crocodiles.

"Many people I know have died on this river while crossing. But that does not scare me that much, maybe this is the way our God wants us to live and die," she said.

"We better be eaten by the crocodiles than staying at home without collecting our pensions," said another villager, Bayekile Mthonti. 

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