Although filled with challenges, Nokuselo Mbukwana’s life reads in part like a fairy-tale for the 21st century. Having been born with mobility limitations and regarded as ‘different’ to her childhood peers, she has worked hard to achieve her career aspirations while balancing family life, has rediscovered a soul mate from her school days, enjoys the newfound freedom of driving an adapted car, and lives a life committed to inspiring others.
We can all identify with some parts of Nokuselo’s story: experiencing the excitement of getting ‘that job’ or driving our very own car for the first time; dealing with the frustration of limitations; finding meaning in helping others. But few of us can identify with every facet of Nokuselo’s life. The fact she has lived all these aspects makes her story all the more meaningful.
Nokuselo was born over 40 years ago and spent her childhood living in rural Eastern Cape. She was born with a shortened right leg and no kneecap, meaning that her mobility was impaired. The early days were a challenge for both Nokuselo and her parents. However, things changed for the better when she was able to attend Ikhewzi Lokusa School for disabled children in Umtata. Here she was taught to value herself, and to understand that her impaired mobility should never detract from her full intellectual and spiritual self. This awareness enabled Nokuselo to remain motivated and work hard at her studies so that she could embark on a career that would bring her financial independence. Nokuselo is now a Chief Administrative Official at Transnet in Cape Town. In between her work achievements, she has raised children and reconnected with an old school friend with whom she had a special bond, who has since become her husband.
Despite the freedom made possible through education, Nokuselo was much limited in being able to travel about independently. South Africa’s public transport being what it is made simple journeys onerous. Nokuselo says that she would often receive negative treatment in taxis from other passengers and drivers, who could never understand her need for additional space to accommodate her rigid prosthesis.
Nokuselo realised that she needed her own transport. It was difficult having to rely on her husband to drive her places, or to hassle with public transport. After saving up and buying a vehicle herself, Nokuselo applied to Nicky’s Drive to fund the final stages of her independence – getting the car adapted with the necessary hand controls.
One of Nokuselo’s passions is inspiring other women. Now that she is able to travel around independently, thanks to her adapted car, she dedicates much of her spare time to the Siyaphakama Development for the Disabled Association. This is an organisation for people with impaired mobility that was established by a group of women six years ago, in Women’s Month 2011. The Association promotes independency by making women aware that they can live full and enriched lives despite any physical limitations.
In addition, members of the Association, such as Nokuselo, undertake hospital and home visits to those who have recently lost mobility, so as to give them and their families hope that there is still life after being disabled. And who better to show them than Nokuselo, who has grown from a small girl living a challenging rural life, into a strong, compassionate women who is able to lead a full and independent life?
Nokuselo, you may inspire others, but know that this Women’s Month, you inspire us!