A decade ago, Siphamandla Mtsolo survived a shooting. The trauma caused by the gunshot wound to his spinal column was severe, and resulted in him becoming a quadriplegic. Yet despite the loss of full body mobility, Siphamandla has pursued his life with determination and vigour. Today he is a confident thirty-year old, completing a Master’s degree in Social Sciences, living a sociable and largely independent life, and driving his own car.
Siphamandla believes that being able to drive a car has been the key to him living a full life. “Before having my own car,” he says, “you could say that I lived an indoor life. My social life was very limited. Unless there was something compulsory that I had to attend, I was hardly ever able to join in activities and events. And public transport was not only difficult for me, it was also very costly.”
In a way, Siphamandla was a prisoner; less due to his impaired mobility – to which he is well-adapted – but rather because of the limitations placed on the social interaction that he craved.
Siphamandla became aware of car adaptations for mobility-impaired drivers through the QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA), an organisation that aims to develop the full potential of quadriplegics and paraplegics. Siphamandla recalls the first time he saw an adapted car being driven. It was as if, suddenly, a vista of opportunity opened up before him. “It wasn’t long before I knew exactly what kind of adaptations I would need in a car,” says Siphamandla. “I would require hand controls for the brakes and accelerator, and a steering knob, or spinner, to enable steering.” Via QASA’s network, he was able to find a suitable company that could make the necessary car adaptations. In a serendipitous twist, the person who undertook the car adaptations was, in fact, that first driver who Siphamandla had seen in an adapted car.
Not as easy, though, was funding the car adaptations. Having to finance his postgraduate studies, Siphamandla now faced a financial roadblock that potentially could shatter his dream to drive. He would require almost R10, 000 to have his car adaptations made. It was at this point that he was introduced to Nicky’s Drive, the only non-profit organisation in South Africa to provide funding specifically for people who require car adaptations. Discovering Nicky’s Drive was a turning point. Following a letter of motivation for funding, Siphamandla’s request was granted by the organization. “Things moved quickly,” he recalls. “From my first conversations with Nicky, it took about four months to having my Nissan Almera automatic ready to drive with its new adaptations.”
Choosing the journey
It’s been three years now, since Siphamandla has been able to drive. Before driving his own car, he would journey home from KwaZulu-Natal to visit his family in the Eastern Cape when the opportunity arose, which was usually twice a year. Now, he gets into his car and makes the journey himself, as many as five times a year. Siphamandla says, “Driving was something that I couldn’t believe I would ever be able to do. It has changed my life. It has saved me financially, and I am confident that it is going to influence my future career opportunities. To think, I no longer need a driver. I can choose my own journey. I can drive.”