What's messed up in SA is the government grant to foster a child is a few hundred per month more than the child support grant paid to unemployed mothers!
Very sad. But there's definitely more to this story than we are being told. I know of at least 5 NGOs in Cape Town with feeding projects. Where is she in SA? What about local churches? There are people and places to ask for help. An able bodied young mother with 1 child does not just give them up because she's hit a rough patch. I know quite a few people who have been in her position. I would start with a drug test and offering her help if she is clean and stays sober until things are back on track.
I think I've given the wrong impression here completely. It is not the mother's will to just give up the child at all. Far from it, she's literally killing herself (eating terribly poorly, very sleep deprived) trying to get by.
It is my (childless) logic which makes me think it's the better option in this situation. If enduring a life of constant suffering and struggle guaranteed the child a good upbringing I'd tell her to go suffer what she must. But there's no such guarantee.