‘Fearless’ Red Cross worker delights in helping others
This amazing woman is “long overdue” for a civic accolade like The Herald Citizen of the Year, colleagues and friends of Walmer caregiver Nozibele Mcunukelwa, a finalist in this year’s community recognition awards, say.
The Red Cross MDR-TB facilitator works at the Gqebera clinic, heading a team of 13 home caregivers and “inspiring them to serve”, her branch manager, Coralie Peo-Swartz, says.
Along with clinical psychologist Wendy Nunn and antiapartheid stalwart Judy Chalmers, Peo-Swartz nominated Mcunukelwa, 47, for the honour.
“Nozi loves those who are often unlovable in the eyes of so many others,” she wrote.
“She coordinates a team of volunteers in her working hours, but when she goes home she does volunteer home-based care and nursing. She often will take food from her own cupboard . . . to other families in need.” Nunn and Chalmers agree. “Nozi has made it her life’s calling to care for the rejected, ignored, neglected and lonely in our city,” Nunn said.
She met Mcunukelwa when she helped her interpret for Xhosa rape victims several years ago.
“We are so in awe of the size of Nozi’s heart, because she just gives and gives and gives. She will drop everything to help someone in need.”
In Gqebera, Chalmers has seen the same generosity of spirit.
“She is the most wonderful woman, a volunteer from the bottom of her heart,” Chalmers said.
Nursing sister Linda Tumela, who has worked with Mcunukelwa for several years, is another fan, praising her deep empathy for the elderly and the orphaned.
“She doesn’t have a qualification to do what she is doing, she uses her heart, and yet she is so knowledgeable about the health system,” Tumela said.
“There is no shack, no poverty- ridden room, that is beyond her – she is fearless.”
With no matric, single after an abusive marriage, bringing up four children (at times more) and living in a leaky shack in Area E, Mcunukelwa is certainly an unlikely hero.
However, the stories about this larger-than-life woman make it clear she is a community treasure.
For example, she keeps abox of condoms next to her front door. The reason? In this era of HIV/Aids, they are an essential defence against infection and so are placed where those who need them can discreetly stretch out a hand for one while fetching their TB medicine and not have to ask.
Then there are soft toys from the months the neighbour’s children stayed with her after a killer shack fire destroyed their home.
“People don’t like to do the dirty work, but I love people,” Mcunukelwa says.
“People are scared to go into the houses of people who are very sick. “I’m like ‘bring it on’ because if there is a chance the person can live, I must help.”
Seeing results lights a fire in her heart.
“To see someone after suffering so much, at the dying stage, and then taking them and lifting them up, that motivates me. “That person will tell another, and that will help them, and they can know it’s not the end of the world.”
A former volunteer for the ANC, she has been working for the Red Cross for nearly 10 years and loves it. The hours of 9am to 3.30pm are rare, because if someone has to get their medication at 7.30am “then, I must be here”.
“I work with 11 clinics so I am always on the go.” Then, there is the patient’s family to consider – do the children have birth certificates, do they go to school? “So we’ll go to Sassa.”
Financially it has not always been easy.
While funding from the Red Cross was interrupted for two years Mcunukelwa worked for St John’s soup kitchen in the mornings, then washed dishes at a restaurant.
In between, she kept up contact with her TB patients.
When the Red Cross re – sumed funding, it approached her with a promotion.
Today, she still sells rooibos tea products and works as a carer at weekends.
Self-conscious about the gap in her teeth caused by physical abuse years ago, she was reluctant to have her wide smile photographed.
“He kicked me, so now there is no mister,” she says.
“That is why I adopted two extra children. When I tell men I have four children, they run away,” she jokes.
And what a proud mother she is. Her biological children are Yandisa Sam, a Woolworths cashier, who is married with a toddler, and son Amlindile Mapitiza, 24, a polymer technologist at Aberdare Cables.
Then there are brothers Thobile, 22, and Lifa Jobo, 26, who have lived with her since they were five and nine.
“Thobile was in class with Amlindile and I saw him at school with torn trousers and no shoes,” she remembers of meeting the skinny five-yearold.
“So I went to their home and found that his mother, Grace, had MDR-TB.” Mcunukelwa took the whole family in.
The boys’ father died but Grace recovered and still lives at Mcunukelwa’s house.
Mcunukelwa’s education is ongoing and she is enrolled for five matric subjects. “Yes, why not . . . I want to be a social worker!”