Reader Profile - Five Decades and Still Going Strong

Ronnie Botha was a handsome, twenty-one year old police detective working in Kroonstad when he had his car accident back in 1954. 2008 marks his 54th year in a wheelchair and he is still going strong!Ronnie had a passion for cars (still has!) and bought himself a beautiful Sunbeam Talbot sports car. He was out for a drive when the front wheel locked up and Ronnie was paralysed from the chest down (T8).

After spending a month in hospital in Kroonstad the doctors sent him to Johannesburg for specialist treatment but a month later they decided they couldn’t help him and sent him to the provincial hospital in Port Elizabeth so he could be nearer to his parents. He remained at the hospital for three years, going home on weekends but back in the ward come Monday. When he was discharged they gave him callipers and crutches and suggested that Ronnie, paralysed from the chest down, should try and use them!With no other vehicle involved in the accident Ronnie could not claim from the Road Accident Fund. The Police Services covered his medical expenses for the first year but then he was declared medically unfit and discharged. SAPS established a fund to help with his expenses but he wasn’t earning a living. From a hospital bed,
with no cell phone, fax machine or laptop Ronnie took back control of his life. With the help of his father he started a trucking company attending to paperwork and phone calls when he was at home on weekends.Aletta was one of his nurses in Port Elizabeth and when Ronnie went to England, for treatment of a recurring pressure sore, she went along as his nurse. In those days travel by plane was a luxury so Ronnie and Aletta spent three weeks at sea. They had to use two different wheelchairs; one for on deck and a slim line one for going to the cabin as the passages and doorways were too constrictive for a normal wheelchair.

The ship’s bathrooms had narrow bulkhead doors with an impassable six inch ridge at the bottom. Fortunately there was a basin in the cabins.

Ronnie remembers that “passengers and crew were surprised to see me in my wheelchair. Disabled people just didn’t go out in those days!”After six months in England at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where they scraped away part of his bone to cure the festering pressure sore, Ronnie and Aletta returned to South Africa. Aletta’s memory of the voyage is that she “nursed him, did his dressings and brought him beer,” and during his three year stint in hospital he “took over the ward!” They married in 1969.Ronnie re-applied at SAPS for a position as a radio controller. He had to get “permission from the Minister of Police as you had to be fit, there were no disabled people working for the police in 1958,” Ronnie was the first! He served as a radio controller until 1986 and, though never promoted, they did eventually restore his previous rank of Sergeant. Ronnie and Aletta decided to try dairy farming. Their Doberman bitch had pups which they sold to buy their very first jersey cow. Then Ronnie designed and built his own, wheelchair friendly home. (using sub-contactors) on a farm 25kms from the PE coast. As he was still working shifts at the radio control room he didn’t get much sleep. He learnt how to artificially inseminate his cows and the dairy farm grew. “I must be the only guy in a wheelchair to do artificial insemination!” he laughs.Aletta said that “when Ronnie first became disabled it was hard, now it is much easier. Places were inaccessible; there were no assistive devices and no magazines like Rolling Inspiration that could tell you how to do things.” Ronnie made his own early car hand controls but now uses a commercial one. He loves his Subaru Forester and finds it the most disabled friendly of all his cars. The “height is so nice, you get in so easily. I had three Mercs before and they were nice but you had to swing far to get in and now I’m getting older I can’t swing so far.”After 54 years of caring for Ronnie, and 40 years married to him, Aletta believes that “if you do the right things you can live a relatively normal life. Do not give up as there is a future and with a positive attitude, if you want to overcome disability, you can.”They retired six years ago, sold off the farm and moved to Seaview where they live right “next to the sea, on the rocks”.Ronnie spoke of Aletta’s role in his continued health and happiness; “I don’t think I could have survived without the incredible support of my wife and family.”

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