Overcoming Spina Bifida

If I was asked for the two most memorable moments in my life I would have to start with the most liberating day, the day I got my driver’s licence and the other would be the day I graduated. Both of these were goals I had set myself and worked very hard at with blood, sweat and tears – I mean that. My whole family; me, my parents and brother and sister made sacrifices to achieve those goals, it was a real team effort.
I got my learner’s licence, then produced it to my Dad to show him how serious and determined I was. My Dad took me for driving lessons and there I was – in the driver’s seat in control of this huge motorised engine!
I was so nervous going for my driving test that I failed – twice! When I got it on the 3rd attempt, the entire licence department rejoiced with my Dad and I – I just cried .... I did it ... I got it!
I felt like I was free and independent. My car became my temple, I worshipped it. Just a car to some, but to me it was a new way of life.
I once heard someone say, “Reach for the moon, even if you miss, you will land among the stars! Go out there and shine, stars don’t take turns to shine, they all shine at once.” How true this is – I live by it. It reminds me of my graduation ceremony at Wits University for my commerce degree. As the graduation sash was placed over my shoulders, I was told to turn and look at the camera, but I couldn’t see the camera in the darkness before me as all the lights were focussed on the stage. So I just turned and smiled. The flashes from the camera blinded me for a few seconds and then I could only see stars and hear thundering applause from the audience. It felt as though I was the centre of the universe and the world had stopped to applaud me. What an awesome feeling that was.
Being a fresh University graduate tends to make one almost a bit arrogant. You think that this is it and that you know it all, but it’s only the beginning of lots more to come.
After I graduated, I returned home to Potgietersrus (Mokopane) in Limpopo to live with my parents. My first job was as a data capturer for a platinum mine, capturing job cards all day long onto their computer system. Needless to say, I did not find this job satisfying. After a few months I moved on to work for a bank, first as a waste clerk, then as a manager’s clerk, sorting out cheques and adding them up, making appointments for the manager, completing loan applications and doing the filing for the entire department which left me exhausted but still not finding purpose in my job.
In hindsight, while it was painful at the time, I did learn humility and to appreciate the value of work and having a job.
I battled through several more jobs before joining KPMG as an accounting clerk. Although I had to travel 70kms a day to work and 70kms back, I enjoyed working with the clients and the three year contract I served with the audit firm was the longest I held onto a job! I was determined to be a professional and didn’t mind the sacrifices and hard work.
After completing my articles I moved on and worked in a few more jobs, restless to find challenge and satisfaction in what I did. I also encountered the challenge of being a person with a disability in the workplace. Even with my degree and articles the labour market was not very accepting. I ‘stood’ my ground and fought those battles, determined not to give in and not to give up all those long days trudging along on Wits University campus from lecture to lecture – remembering how I felt on my graduation evening – and the stars – reminding myself to go out there and shine.
My perseverance paid off and I was offered a job in finance with SA Breweries. My skills, experience and qualifications were recognised and I enjoyed working with them. I progressed well in the company, from an assistant finance position to a finance management trainee and then several finance management positions ending up at their head office in Sandton. I worked for this global corporate giant for a total of six years and the last project I worked on was with one of the directors for presentation to the chairman of the company. It was the highlight of my career with SAB.
Over the years I had engaged with various organisations for people with disabilities. I joined the Association for People with Disabilities in Polokwane and was a member of their management committee which led to contact with organisations nationally. An internet search led me to the Office of the President and the Office of the Status of Disabled People. I learned about various documents, legislations and the policy framework of the Integrated National Disability Strategy (INDS).
I wanted to learn more and do more. I felt blessed that I had been given the opportunity to study, work and be mobilised. I had experienced moments of despondency about work and being a person with a disability; that was exactly why I felt I could do more.
Through various internet searches, communication and effort, my networks in the disability sector grew until, just over a year ago, I started working for DEC, Disability Empowerment Concerns, an Investment Holding Company, based in Rivonia, Jo’burg. The company holds and manages investments for the disability sector. We have seven national beneficiary organisations that service over 2 million people with disabilities all over South Africa.
DEC engages in investments in the context of Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment. The underlying strategy of DEC is to promote the social and economic integration of people with disabilities in South Africa.
The company was established in 1996 and over the years concluded several investments with JSE listed companies including Comair, the Nedbank Group, Telkom and most recently, Barloworld and PPC. We also hold investments in private companies such as Total SA, Putco, Fabkomp which is an automotive parts manufacturer based in the Eastern Cape and Kuzuko Lodge which is a private game lodge operated by the Legacy Group of Hotels also in the Eastern Cape in the Greater Addo Elephant National Park.
My role at DEC is that of Investment Executive and I manage the investments as well as market the company for further investment opportunities. Through the guidance of our CEO and my previous working experience in the corporate sector, I confidently engage with management staff in the companies DEC is invested in and make presentations to potential investment companies.
DEC influences and supports companies in which we become shareholders to promote disability economic empowerment in their own operations. This entails compliance with disability employment equity targets, inclusion of people with disabilities in skills development programmes, barrier-free design of business premises and procurement opportunities.
DEC’s objective is for corporations, in which DEC invests to become role models of disability economic empowerment practices in their economic sectors.
I have also become involved in driving an initiative called the African Employers’ Forum on Disability (AEFD), a forum of employers coming together to share best practice and standards on the employment of people with disabilities. The focus of AEFD is primarily to promote change in the arena of employment of people with disabilities and to create Disability Confidence, the business case for action and best practice. Since many corporate companies are making strides to address these issues, the success stories need to be shared and common mistakes avoided. South African employers need a platform from which to engage with other stakeholders as they promote empowerment for people with disabilities. For me, working on this initiative means bringing other corporate companies on board to join the forum as members and to develop it to the point that we can launch it this year. Through the AEFD, not only will best practice be shared, but also a database of accredited service providers developed to support the economy.
I would like to thank the DEC CEO, Mike Du Toit, for his support and guidance. It gives me tremendous strength to work for a company and do a job that enables me to fulfill my life vision of giving back.
There are two people in my life that have helped me every step of the way and are a vital part of my life in crafting my ability to be who I am and do what I do – these are my parents, my angels. I thank them and pay tribute to them in everything I do. I love you Mom and Dad – this is for you.

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