1 December 2005
The oldest living person in the world may well be South African, and her greatest wish is to meet Nelson Mandela.
The Star reports that Noninji Elizabeth Bete, a 119-year-old great-grandmother from Tantyi township near Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, is older than the current official Guinness Book record holder, 115-year-old Elizabeth Bolden of the US.
Bete was born on 21 May 1886. A mother of seven, grandmother of 15 and great-grandmother of 27, she can still get around with a walking stick.
“I was very strong during my time and I am still strong,” Bete told the Star, shaking her fists as proof.
According to Guinness World Records, the oldest person to have ever lived was 122-year-old Jean Louise Calment, born in France on 21 February 1875. She died in 1997.
Bete turns 120 in May next year and could well surpass that record, given her health and strength.
Maryna Daniels, a senior official at the local Department of Home Affairs, confirmed to the Star that Bete was the oldest living South African.
“I was phoned by a social worker this afternoon to confirm that the ID number was indeed correct,” she told the newspaper. “I then checked in the population register and saw she was the only person still alive who was born in the 1880s.”
Bete can’t remember much about her past. She says she worked as a nanny for a white family at a nearby farm. “When the family’s children grew up, I then worked as a domestic worker,” she told the Star.
Her family moved from a farm to Grahamstown, where they settled in Tantyi township.
“We had no cars in our days and we used horse-drawn carriages,” she says.
She recalls that there were no traffic lights in those days. “There used to be someone giving directions by waving his hands in the middle of the road.”
She has attributed her long life to her parents, who taught her to respect other people. She told the Star that abstaining from alcohol also helped.