Granny from Ventersdorp oldest in the world

The oldest living person on earth, Martha Hester Sehao. Photo: Dustin Wetdewich/Potchefstroom Herald
The oldest living person on earth, Martha Hester Sehao. Photo: Dustin Wetdewich/Potchefstroom Herald

Lying on the sofa in the small house she shares with her daughter, her small, frail body nearly sinks into the pillows.

Her long pink socks emphasise the size of her large pink slippers in relation to the slenderness of her legs. Her eyes are like crystals, bright from all the excitement and, after every question, a broad smile appears on her face. It seems as if she gets even more excited every time someone in the room talks about her, even though she doesn’t understand much of what is being said.

Martha smiled whenever someone in the room talks about her. Photo: Dustin Wetdewich/Potchefstroom Herald

Martha smiled whenever someone in the room talks about her. Photo: Dustin Wetdewich/Potchefstroom Herald

In a dusty extension outside Ventersdorp, she has made history by still being alive after 121 years. Martha Hester Sehao is, to the Herald’s knowledge, the oldest living person on earth. She was born on 9 January 1897, 121 years and four months ago.

Various sources identify the Japanese woman Chiyo Miyako as the oldest person alive at the age of 117, but Martha’s identification document proves that she is four years older than Miyako.

Martha Hester Sehao sitting on the sofa with her pink slippers. Photo: Marianke Saayman/Potchefstroom Herald

Martha Hester Sehao sitting on the sofa with her pink slippers. Photo: Marianke Saayman/Potchefstroom Herald

Martha can’t remember exactly where she was born but her daughter, Miriam Sehawa says her supercentenarian mother (someone who has reached the age of 110) grew up somewhere on a farm outside  Ventersdorp. Martha had seven children, four of whom are still alive. She has eight grandchildren but, surprisingly, no great-grandchildren to her knowledge.

Martha's daughter Miriam Sehawa. Photo: Dustin Wetdewich/Potchefstroom Herald

Martha’s daughter Miriam Sehawa. Photo: Dustin Wetdewich/Potchefstroom Herald

Martha and Miriam have been living in Extension 8 in Ventersdorp for more than five years but it is only now that she has captured the attention of the community. A group of residents in Ventersdorp who regularly clean the streets in the extensions noticed Martha while cleaning outside her house one day. When they heard how old she was, they decided to have a cake baked for her.

The group of people that bought Martha a cake. Photo: Dustin Wetdewich/Potchefstroom Herald

The group of people that bought Martha a cake. Photo: Dustin Wetdewich/Potchefstroom Herald

The baker from Mikstok Bakery was the one who notified a correspondent of the Herald about Martha, knowing that this is big news. The Herald realised that if Martha is really 121 years old, this should be a world record.

My colleague, Dustin Wetdewich, and I travelled from Potchefstroom to Ventersdorp with only an address that doesn’t exist on Google Maps. If it wasn’t for the J.B. Marks municipal official, Sydney Mnyakama, who knows Ventersdorp quite well, we would probably never have found Martha.

Martha and her daughter Miriam. Photo: Dustin Wetdewich/Potchefstroom Herald

Martha and her daughter Miriam. Photo: Dustin Wetdewich/Potchefstroom Herald

The interview itself was also a challenge since Martha doesn’t speak, she only smiles, and Miriam doesn’t understand English or Afrikaans. Sydney helped us a lot by translating the interview for us. After every question, Martha looked as excited as a child and gave a big, toothless smile. At times, it looked as if she wanted to jump up and say something but her age limited her to just smiles.

Martha's identity document shows that she is 121 years old. Photo: Marianke Saayman/Potchefstroom Herald

Martha’s identity document shows that she is 121 years old. Photo: Marianke Saayman/Potchefstroom Herald

Martha cannot walk anymore and, with only a pension as a source of income, there is no way she can afford a wheelchair. Miriam stays home to look after her mother but this is not easy as her body is frail and her bones brittle. Like a porcelain doll, it looks as if she could break at any moment.

Martha still has a lot of life left in her. Photo: Dustin Wetdewich/Potchefstroom Herald

Martha still has a lot of life left in her. Photo: Dustin Wetdewich/Potchefstroom Herald

This is why it was quite a shock to hear that Martha’s only health issue is high blood pressure and that she doesn’t visit the clinic all that often.

Despite her age and being the oldest person on earth, Martha has a lot of life left in her. With her big, pink slippers and her crystal eyes, this old Ventersdorp resident has just made world history.

 

AJR

AJR

 

  AUTHOR
Marianke Saayman
Journalist

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