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A black nurse, Fraulein van der Merwe, is a divorced mother of two children who works in a busy state hospital. She tells her story:

"It was such a big thing, going to vote for the first time. We were so excited. I thought there were going to be a lot of changes, but there haven't been, really. I'm not so excited about the government now, though I still support the ANC.` `To tell the truth I don't really know why I carry on working here. It's 18 years since I started. I nurse people and give counseling to HIV patients. I'm fluent in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa, so I do interpreting. It's not part of my job and I don't get extra money for it, but how does a doctor communicate with a patient otherwise?

"I earn about 2,000 rand ($470) a month. They deduct 780 rand towards my housing bond of 1,475 rand, medical aid is 280 rand, I pay 150 rand for insurance for the kids' education and 95 rand for life insurance. I take home about 495 rand.

" Don't ask me how I cope. I recently stopped the medical aid because there's a big hole in my pocket. My parents help me sometimes with groceries. They're giving us a salary increase, but the bond rate's going up again and so are nursing council fees, so I'll probably still end up with a few hundred rand each month.

"My husband disappeared one day while Since then, I've raised them alone. They're 11 and 12 now. It was hard at first. There's no government subsidy for child care and the creche costs 120 rand a child. These days I pay for extra classes for them. I don't mind - it's their education and also it means that when I come home from work they're still at school.

"Our area is full of gangsters. violence and shooting - I don't want them on the streets. I don't get a cent of maintenance. I don't know where their father is: I had to spend a lot of money tracing him to get divorced. I leave home at 6.25 a.m. and get to work by train. I'm risking my life: I've already been mugged twice. It's safer to go by minibus taxi, but I can't afford it - it costs 150 rand a month and by train it's 33 rand.

"I was on holiday when the nurses went on strike last year, but I supported them. We must stand together. Everyone's been complaining about wages. I can cope with some family help, but I don't know how some of the others manage. We're really looking forward to getting some more money, but the cost of things keeps going up. The kids are always wanting something, there are school outings to pay for. I worry about buying winter clothes.

"When I get my bonus, I'll maybe buy myself a pair of shoes. I wear a uniform at work, but going to church you want to wear something nice."

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)