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Stranger than Fiction
South African Mowgli: Saturday doesn't speak and lives on raw
fruit and meat, but he will wear clothes now and accept a bath
The 'monkey boy' still spurns human life
NEWS FEATURE It's been ten years since a five-year-old boy was
found living in the wilds of Kwa-Zulu Natal with monkeys. Despite
close attention, he still can't talk, still behaves like a monkey
... and seems immune to human ailments.
WONDER HLONGWA reports
IT has been a decade since a five-year-old boy suspected of
living with monkeys was discovered in Sundumbili in
KwaZulu-Natal. He has been in professional care ever since, but
still behaves more like a primate than a human.
In 1987, a bedraggled boy aged about five was discovered by
Sundumbili residents, showing strange, animal-like behaviour. He
liked climbing trees and on to rooftops. He loved fruit,
He was taken to the nearest police station and then put in the
care of the Ethel Mthiyane Special School for the disabled. He
was named Saturday, because he was found on that day, and has not
been given a Christian name.
"He was very violent during his first days here. He used to break
things in the kitchen, get in and out through windows. He didn't
play with other kids and instead he used to beat them. He liked
uncooked red meat. He used to steal from the fridge - even now he
still steals meat," said Ethel Mthiyane, founder and head of the
When she first took him to the hospital, staff insisted he needed
a surname and she gave him hers, Mthiyane.
He was found near the Tugela River, after being spotted roaming
with monkeys and scavenging fruit thrown away by hawkers.
Psychologists say he is mentally retarded, but Mthiyane thinks he
is not - he has yet to recover from his experience in the bush
with the monkeys.
Today, his behaviour is still strange. When he was offered fruit,
he took one bite from an orange and then threw it aside. Then he
grabbed a peach, took a bite and threw it down. Later he picked
them up and finished them. But bananas are still his favourite.
Mthiyane says he used to run using both his legs and arms, like a
monkey. One leg was broken when he was found, and he walks with a
But Saturday still can't utter a word and numerous attempts to
get him a speech therapist have not been successful. Mthiyane
said he can understand what she tells him, though he never
His lessons at the school have included how to bath, comb his
hair, dress and play, which he didn't do when he arrived.
Interestingly, Saturday has not been sick since he was brought to
the centre and Mthiyane says she thinks he is immune to natural
"When he came to the centre, he didn't like blankets. He wanted
to sleep naked and he hated clothing, but now he has improved. He
accepts clothes and takes a bath," said Mthiyane.
When the Mail & Guardian visited the centre, Saturday climbed
into the car through an open window and sat inside, later to be
joined by his only friend, Thulani.
He was nearly run over when we left, but fortunately one of the
workers at the centre spotted him hiding under the car seconds
before it rode over him. He was very possessive and stubborn. He
refused to share his fruit, especially the bananas, with his
teachers and Mthiyane, and absolutely wouldn't give the other
When he first arrived at the centre, though, he used to toss food
into his mouth and dig holes in the ground with his bare hands.
Staff at the centre are convinced that Saturday lived with
Mail&Guardian, November 26, 1997