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World Run ambassador Edwina Makgamatha fights for people with disabilities

David Isaacson Sports reporter
Edwina Makgamatha poses for a portrait at home in Johannesburg. She will participate in the Wings for Life World Run on May 9.
Edwina Makgamatha poses for a portrait at home in Johannesburg. She will participate in the Wings for Life World Run on May 9.
Image: Alon Skuy

Wheelchair-bound Edwina Makgamatha, who will participate in the Wings for Life World Run on Sunday, has become an activist for disabled people.

The mother of two already runs a company distributing medical consumables required by disabled people, and she’s close to completing her degree in industrial psychology, which she will use to fight for the rights of disabled people in the workplace.

“Disabled people are usually just sidelined or placed at a certain position because someone thinks that’s all they can do,” the bubbly 36-year-old said.

“It is a widespread problem. There are so many disabled people who are qualified but they don’t even get recruited or positioned for what they’re qualified for because it’s a stereotype ...

“If this country and companies listened we can make a huge difference. The mindset is it’ll cost a lot of money [to make the workplace accessible for disabled employees], but it doesn’t have to be.”

Makgamatha broke both her pelvic bones in a car accident in 2006 and was told by a doctor she wouldn’t be able to carry a pregnancy to term, but she proved that wrong twice.

In 2010 she had another accident, being paralysed from the waist down after being flung from the car she was travelling in.

This time she couldn’t defy the doctors who told her she wouldn’t walk again, but she fought back with a positive attitude and gratitude.

She shared a hospital ward with a quadriplegic. “One day she said ‘you know, these nurses don’t brush my teeth properly’ ... She just wanted that. That was her dream, that was her prayer. That’s all she wanted.

“And yet I’ve got my full upper body working. That was a moment I started appreciating what I still had. That triggered my view towards disability.”

Her company, Thusanang Enabling Support Services, is about getting key products to disabled people in all parts of the country, even the rural areas.

These include catheters, ostomy bags, irrigation systems for bowel systems and products for pressure ulcers. “In my business I make a difference by supplying medical consumables which also comes from my own experiences of not having the daily consumables that you need — and that’s your dignity.

“If you don’t have a catheter to empty your bladder it’s a problem. What’s going to happen to you? You’re not going to go out.”

Makgamatha, who leads a fully independent life, has been impressed by how foreign countries she’s visited cater to the disabled. She knows what’s possible. 

“Accessibility was, is and seems like it will always be the biggest barrier that persons with disability in this country will have because not much is being done about it.”