Johannesburg - From growing up as a sickly child to nursing her bedridden mother, Puseletso* is now determined to put the past behind her and finish school.
She’s 16 and was in Grade 2 last year. On Wednesday, she’ll return to school, still unsure whether she will be allowed to proceed to Grade 3.
She was born in South Africa, but when her mother fell ill, they moved to Mozambique to be close to her family.
When she turned nine, her mother died and her father came to fetch her.
Back in South Africa with her father, stepmother and stepbrother, life took another turn.
“My father would beat my stepmother. They would fight and I would run to the neighbours,” she said, squeezing her hands in her lap.
The beatings later turned to her. “When he got drunk, I locked myself in the room because I knew the beatings would start. Sometimes I would run away to the neighbours.”
But there was only so much the neighbour could do, and so Puseletso ran away and ended up at a homeless shelter, the Hand in Children Care Centre in Sebokeng Extension 12.
She started attending school, being placed in a class with seven- and eight-year-olds.
“My experiences are far removed from theirs. They talk about things on TV, shops, music… I am in the same class as them but in a completely different world,” she said.
Charles Phahlane, spokesman for the Gauteng Department of Education, confirmed that Puseletso was found “loitering the streets of Sebokeng and placed at a shelter”.
He said social workers placed her temporarily at the school while the department conducts a thorough assessment of her learning needs.
Phahlane said the outcome of the assessment would be ready at the end of January, and the department would decide on an appropriate institution and grade for her.
Puseletso is now in the care of a retired teacher, Ntombi Ndlovu.
Ndlovu said she met Puseletso through another child she had hoped to foster, but the child had since ran off.
“I told her not to worry any more and that her hardships are over,” said Ndlovu, who owns an events and catering company.
“I see her pain. I feel she has not told me everything,” she said.
* Not the girl’s real name.