13th Aug 2020 5:01:48 PM

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Madintja was burned on her face, her scalp, her hands and her feet as a toddler.

Main Pic
Sizwe, Madintja, Feleng at Nandos in December 2007

Madintja, recovering from foot surgery and Sizwe, recovering from scalp surgery, sat by the shade of the old apricot tree in Auckland Park, in September 2010.

Lindi with Madintja

Madintja playing "dress-up" with her blind friend Katrina, in early 2010.

Madintja, wearing a wig, with a burns survivor from Dobsonville

Madintja on the see-saw

Madintja Msimanga turned 23 years old in September 2020. Her mother died in the veld-fire where toddler Madintja was burned in the rural Free State of South Africa. Madintja claimed that her father was not interested in helping his child but the paternal grandmother raised her until she came to live at Children of Fire. She eventually met her maternal grandmother as well but in 2019 claimed the relationship was not cordial. Madintja was referred to the organisation by former childcare worker Jemina Masiteng.

Madintja had surgery to feet and hands but needs more surgery to both feet and to both hands. This is increasingly hard to get in the state sector in South Africa. The fatty tissue from a groin flap to her hand needs to be defatted (liposuction) and because of the source of the skin, as Madintja gained a womanly shape, so the grafts and flaps sourced from those areas of her body also swelled. She would, however, have to lose weight first.

Madintja would have benefitted from two prosthetic ears with implants or reconstructed ears. This was theoretically possible in South Africa but it is a dying skill as new people are not being trained.

Madintja blossomed at Children of Fire - especially the addition of "extensions" until we could try tissue expansion of her scalp. The added-on fake hair just helped her to realise that she still had a pretty face and to feel feminine and confident. What a difference a little bit of nylon makes!

There is a way to have the best of both worlds and to have ear prosthesis made to incorporate the ear remnants remaining on the side of her head, but the University of the Witwatersrand Dental Department's Prosthodontics section was unwilling to consider this approach. They like to remove all lumps and bumps, to have a flat surface for the prosthesis to adhere to. The Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Department of the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital did not have the skills nor the will, to rebuild aesthetically-reasonable ears for Doreen… that would have required the skills of a world-leader like Neil Bulstrode at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London or Greg O'Toole at the Royal Free Hospital in London … and funds way beyond what we could raise.

Madinjta successfully climbed to the summit of Mt Cameroon in January 2011, on a climb of 17 teenage burns survivors led by volunteer mountaineer Tristan Jones. That was the sunshine rising in her life; a time of pride and the peak of her personal development. Then came a prolonged teenage slump.

We had fully-funded a year at a private school in Harrismith in the Free State, as we sent Madintja to high school and made bed space in Auckland Park for a burned-leg-child Nthabiseng to join us in her stead. We explained to the family that they could save the Care Dependency Grant for a full year and then use it to pay the private school fees in the following year.

But they did not save the money and the following year Madinjta, instead of appealing to the school to keep her (because she was reasonably competent at her schoolwork), became involved in pupil strike action. This did not endear her to the staff and eventually she had to go to another, lesser quality school.

She continued to visit us in Johannesburg from time to time and from helping young adult Shirley to misbehave while under our care, Madintja also engaged in risky behaviour such that we had to ask her to leave.

Thereafter followed sarcastic little diatribes on Facebook and similar. It is a teenage/young adult form of powerplay, rudeness, even blackmail. It takes time to move past these episodes. In her case it took four years two months. With most of the feeling-entitled-teens it takes two to three years of the rocky patch and then the usually-sweeter inner personality re-emerges. They can cause immense damage to our reputation in their bad-behaviour times, but we try to ride the storm and remain the anchor that they can return to. If only journalists, social workers and their ilk, could have the same broader wisdom and patience, then their reaction to teenage comments would not cause such havoc in the smooth-running of the organisation.

So… Madintja completed her Matric. They were not glowing grades but they were sufficient for her to get herself onto a low-level degree in a field like social work. She had, however, no family member who was both capable and interested in helping her to get tertiary education.. and she seemed unable to take that next step herself.

She re-visited Auckland Park in 2019 and we sent her for some barista training with AfroCoffee run by Johnson and we paid for her to attend Level One First Aid with St John Ambulance in Dunkeld, which she passed. She got to attend a film screening by the Turquoise Harmony Institute in Linden called "The Sultan and the Saint" but did not have the general knowledge of world affairs and history to fully appreciate the event and the ramifications of the audience discussion.

Madintja had office skills but not the ability to minute meetings or to record events in detail; she could not write a competent letter. She struggled with self-discipline and has some non-burns-related health issues. We recommended that she should return to us in around 2025 when she has matured and hopefully also engaged in some tertiary study. A young woman with some kindness, a lot of self-doubt, and some potential that a patient Life Coach could help her with… just biddability and humility are not yet there. We wish her well.

This material is Copyright © The Dorah Mokoena Charitable Trust and/or Children of Fire , 1998-2020.
Distribution or re-transmission of this material, excluding the Schools' Guide, is expressly forbidden without prior permission of the Trust.
For further information, email firechildren@icon.co.za