To listen to someone who is confined to a wheelchair taking you on an emotional journey can be an eye-opening
experience. In particular if the person is a young woman who was once a soccer fanatic.
Mpho Molemela is one such person. She was lucky to gain some mobility post accident. She wheels around in a manual wheelchair, and exhumes unbelievable confidence.
She has since adjusted well and made a life for herself, but she says she’ll probably never forget that fateful day which changed her life ever.She recounted the events of November 3 1992, a day that started like any other day.
As an ardent football fan, she was on the way back from a match between Kaizer Chiefs and the then Fairway Stars (now Free State Stars) when the minibus she was in skidded and overturned on a wet road. “I was thrown out. But then it rolled on top of me and I was left unconscious,” she recalls. The police who were first on the scene, perhaps without medical training, decided to move her and take her to the hospital.“They may have made it worse,” Mpho says.
Although she was in comma in for days, she could clearly hear people coming and going; relatives crying and doctors and nurses saying they didn’t believe she would walk again because of the damage to her spine. “I was there for four months. I also went for lots of physio but no one thought I’d walk again.”
Determined as she was to prove them wrong, she fought and fought to regain a little movement in her legs. “But the problem is that I can’t feel my toes and without that, then you fall over.” I asked her if her disability had ever made her despair. “No, no, no! I have never been depressed about it. It is just something which has happened. I believe it is part of God’s plan for me,” she says.
Her strong Catholic faith, as well as the support of her family and friends, made getting back to a normal life easier. But life had another surprise in store for her. She was a mother of three sons, the youngest being 3 years. She had given up hope of ever having a girl. “I asked the doctor to sterilise me. I didn’t want another child when I had no legs,” she reveals.
That’s where she left it until three years later. In 1996, she was feeling awful and went to the doctor. He thought she was pregnant and sent her for a scan to confirm it. “I couldn’t believe it!” Before she gave birth, she asked the gynaecologist not to give her an epidural as she thought she would experience pain. But she did.
She was given a sedative and she passed out straight after the birth. “We named her Realeboha, which means ‘we thank you’. The Lord works in mysterious ways. This was part of God’s plan for me. My miracle child! I am so blessed!”
She now heads up Mangaung Metro Disability Forum, where she is an activist fighting for the rights of people living with disabilities. In addition to that, she does motivational and inspirational talks. “I do not accept that because I have a disability, I am not any different from anyone else. I don’t need to fit in to feel good about myself. I think I belong to myself and love myself.”
“The wisdom here is not to forget that we are all imperfect human beings and that in itself is not a disability. People who do not have disabilities are often ignorant and some are nasty. They just do not understand,” she continues.
Mpho and a number of other people living with disabilities were taken recently on tours organised by SA Tourism as part of its #TourismForAll campaign, which has as its key focus on universal accessibility. “We still have a lot to do to make places accessible to people with disabilities.
Sometimes the problem is that the buildings are too old and there are no lifts. But sometimes, people try to make a place more accessible but without talking to us. We say, ‘Nothing about us, without us.’ So, we need to be consulted when they plan,” she elucidates.
Mpho says on several occasions on the trip to Free State, she would struggle with essentials such as bathroom mirrors which were too high, or shower taps that were out of reach.
“In the old days, people with disabilities were put in places like homes. I would like people to recognise this about me. I am someone who touched others in some way or the other, and most importantly I never gave up. Life is for living not for sitting around!” she ends.