While Women’s Month is special for all South African women in many different and personal ways, for Bulelwa Madlongwana, the month resonates especially deeply. It was in this month, two years ago, that a lifelong dream was realised.
Bulelwa is a dynamo. She is a lively and energetic single mother of two sons; a young man of 19 and a busy toddler of two. The fact that she has mobility impairment in her lower limbs due to having been born with Spina Bifida, has seldom restricted Bulelwa’s sense of adventure or self worth.
Despite this positive outlook, the reality of living with mobility impairment in South Africa can be tough. South Africa’s public transport – whether bus, train or taxi – simply doesn’t make allowances for people who cannot easily navigate the wide gaps between ground and step, or through narrow seat aisles. There are no mechanized wheelchair lifts or additional spaces to accommodate them.
For Bulelwa, with her free spirit and sense of adventure, having to rely on others made her feel restless. “To get around, I would have to rely on friends,” she says. “They’d see if they could fit me into their busy schedules and if not, I would have to use taxis, which are difficult to get in and out of. So I bought a car. But then I had to ask someone to drive it for me, because practically there was no way I could drive it myself!”
That changed in August 2015, when Bulelwa received news from Nicky’s Drive that she had been approved for funding to have hand controls fitted to her car. This was a moment of huge significance for Bulelwa. It meant that the independence that she craved was finally within her reach.
Within a week of being notified of the approval, Bulelwa’s car was adapted. “At the time,” she recalls, “I was working far from home, in Vredenburg. Every fortnight, I would drive myself home to Khayelitsha. Although today I work much closer to where I live, at the City of Cape Town, I still love the feeling of being able to drive at any time, to anywhere. It gives me a sense of independence. ”
Independence is a driving force in Bulelwa’s life, and it’s something that she desires to share with others. A few years ago, she was one of eight women who co-founded an organisation that seeks to bring hope to those living with disabilities in the townships of the Cape Flats. Of Siyaphakama Development for the Disabled Association (SDDA), she says, “Our main aim is to promote independence for people with disabilities. We want them to take ownership of their lives and to live their individual dreams.”
Bulelwa and the team often undertake hospital visits to those who have recently lost their mobility. They particularly choose to visit hospitals during formal visiting hours in order meet the families of patients as well, so as to give them hope too. Bulelwa says, “Driving ourselves to the hospitals makes it a living testimony that we hope inspires and gives optimism to others.”
Of course, it doesn’t have to be Women’s Month to recognise that importance of hope in achieving our goals. But it is a perfect time to acknowledge the power that it has in driving all of us towards our dreams.