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Pretoria - Johanna Ramatse, who turned 130 years old in January this year, goes down in the country’s record books as the oldest person in the country.
Ramatse’s seniority is in the spotlight as South Africa celebrates International Day for the Elderly on Tuesday.
Her mother also lived well into old age, in a period when she would be covered with fresh cow dung early in the morning, the manure nourishing her muscles and allowing them to strengthen.
The cow dung would be removed when it was dry and hard, and this traditional method was used to sustain the old lady well into her golden years, Ramatse’s 91-year-old daughter Wilhelmina Phiri said.
“They have a long lifespan,” said Phiri, adding that her grandmother died only recently, and that although she had become very old, she had been in full command of her faculties.
Tough love and making the right decisions had kept her alive this far, Ramatse said.
“I carried my parents’ lessons into adulthood,” she told a team from Pretoria News during a visit to her Hammanskraal home on Monday.
She said she had also carried the teachings of the church close to her heart.
“Living true to these values has carried me this far,” she said, boasting that she had never had to consult doctors so far. Losing her eyesight earlier this year was the only sign of old age.
The old dame is surrounded by no less than five generations of family in the Stinkwater home of her daughter, and she said when doctors had come in to test her recently, they had walked away amazed at her perfect state of health.
She has always followed a strict diet, consisting mainly of vegetables and as little meat as possible. “I will not eat pork and chicken feet, who eats those?” she asked.
She grew up eating, among other vegetables, umfino (leaves from vegetables) and imbuya (wild spinach) and said nowadays people did not like the two.
“They ask why one would eat leaves,” she said.
Her daughter said: “She has no high blood pressure, no sugar diabetes, no back pains or forgetfulness.”
She hears well, can stand up and walk about, although she does have a wheelchair to get around in, to ease her easily tiring joints.
Ramatse recalled how her own mother had taught her never to fear hard work, and said that at school she had learnt from a slate, which was erased clean at the end of the day, but whose lessons she knew off by heart for ever.
“My memory was sharpened by this,” she explained, and added that she spoke more than five languages as a result of growing up on a farm near Krugersdorp.
During the interview, she spoke in isiZulu, Setswana, English and Afrikaans.
Ramatse is the last surviving of 11 children, of whom she was the first. She herself had 10 children - five sons and five daughters.
Eight of them have since died, the only surviving children being Phiri and Ramatse’s youngest daughter, aged 60.
Ramatse was 88 when her husband died in 1971, and she has lived with Phiri since.
Said an aging Phiri: “Old people do not need stress.
“You must make them feel comfortable, make sure they eat, drink and rest when they have to.”
Her mother had taught them not to drink or smoke, had encouraged them to go to church, avoid parties and wandering the streets as young children.
“This moulded me into the strong woman and mother I became. I managed to work hard at home and at work, and was also a valuable member of society,” Phiri said.
On Monday, Ramatse sat surrounded by her daughter and some grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
They all agreed that the old lady was an invaluable source of wisdom. Said 19-year-old great grandchild Simphiwe Maphosa: “She has been a guide and adviser to us for as long as we have known. We love her.”