Noluthando Makalima is a force to be reckoned with. The 32-year-old adaptive surfer recently received the Minister’s Recognition of Excellence Award at the Momentum gsport Awards and holds a silver medal from the World Paralympic Championships, held this year in the United States.
I managed to catch up with her, and she shared a piece of her beautiful story, her personal journey with disability, her surfing journey and life as a single mother. This is her story:
Tell us about yourself.
My full name is Noluthando Phateka Makalima. I am 32 years old. I was born in Mt Fletcher (Eastern Cape Province) in South Africa. I was raised by a single mom and I am also a single mother of one.
I was born with cerebral palsy, and it affected my speech and movement. I walk with support from crutches.
What was your childhood like?
It was a bit difficult growing up, but my mom was a strong person. We are five in our family and I am the fourth one. Due to my disability, my mom had to carry me and carry my younger sibling at the same time while doing errands. When I close my eyes and think of those days, I just remember how my mom was a strong person. She was a fighter. I remember she would carry me to school, to the clinic and everywhere, basically.
By that time, she wasn’t working, so it was difficult. I cannot even explain it. I appreciate her because she never gave me up to social welfare. She raised me and made sure I got what I wanted and I achieved my goals.
Even at an early age, my disability didn’t stop me from doing anything; I would play with other children and do household chores. I faced a lot of challenges as a child, both at school and at home. I had challenges with moving from one point to another, but that did not stop me from being who I wanted to be.
I finished my grade 12 and I have a matric certificate. I did short courses as well, one in IT and another in administration. It took me six years to complete these courses.
I didn’t say to myself, ‘I am disabled, so I cannot do this, or I can’t achieve my goals.’ While growing up, I never thought of myself as a disabled person. I just saw myself as who I was, a normal human being.
How did losing your mother affect you?
In October 2012, my mother passed away. She was like my third leg which I leaned on, and I was hurt by the loss. It was the worst part of my life, and I still feel like crying when I think of her. She was my friend.
I had a lot of anger towards myself because of my mother’s death. I asked a lot of questions, to no one in particular: Why did she leave me? Who is supposed to take care of me now? Who will support me? But God did not turn His back on me. He just told me to wipe my tears, that He would be there for me, and He would be my strength, which gave me comfort.
How did you begin surfing?
In June 2014, a friend of mine, who is also disabled, introduced me to a support group for people living with disability. The group is called Pakhama.
The same year in December, one of the group members told me about surfing. At first, I did not even have [an] interest. I was really scared of the waves, but I just tried. I was also afraid of water, but my mentor and coach helped me a lot.
They helped me to achieve one of my goals. I ended up surfing professionally, going overseas because of surfing and even won a silver medal this year in America at the Paralympics. I had not done any sporting thing before, and surfing is now like my other life.
Her recent pictures show the glitz and glamour on the red carpet, where she received a ministerial recognition award for her contribution at the Paralympic games.
When I got my award, I was so happy. I could not believe that it was me walking on the red carpet, receiving a ministerial recognition award, a top award. I was on international TV talking about this award, and I still could not believe it was me doing all this. I am still happy even now.
What are your hopes for the future?
I just see myself growing, owning my own house and making a living because of surfing, teaching people about surfing and training other disabled people how to surf. I want to get more experience and exposure.
I see surfing taking me to a higher level, where I can say I was down there, but look at where I am now.
One thing I will never do is take anyone for granted. I will not judge anyone, no matter how big I get. I am here because of people, because of my supporters. My family members, my daughter and my niece Zayanda Makalima have stood by me and helped me to be where I am today.
How is life as a single mother living with a disability?
I have a 5-year-old daughter. She is the most important person in my life. My child is the one who gives me strength to do all these things. She is the one who makes me hustle and not give up.
Being a single parent is very difficult; there are lots of challenges. I have to do everything on my own and I have to take care of her. Eventually, she will have to go to school, and I need to be able to finance her education. I cannot rely on my social grant. She is the reason I want a stable job and my own house. There are always problems that come with living in a family house like I do.
There are also questions that are hard to answer, like ‘where is my father?’ But you just have to be honest. I told my daughter that her father is still alive, but we are no longer together now.
People also always ask me questions [about] why I had a child while living with disability like this. You must be brave enough to face such things. I tell them I am proud to have a daughter like mine.
This year I also found a new family on my father’s side. I never knew them growing up. Now, I can include them in my journey.
What advice do you have for people who are living with disability and letting their condition limit their success?
If you are living with disability, never tell yourself that you cannot do this or that. Try; don’t say you can’t. It is better to say you do not want to do it, because you can if you want to. Do not lie to yourself.
Go there, and try your best. Be you. Do not be afraid of someone who is telling you [that you] are disabled, so you cannot do it. In life, you must learn to take challenges and face them head on.
Go there, and take the risk. Never be disadvantaged by someone. Never say you can’t. Try, and try again. See the endless possibilities.
Phoebie Shamiso Chigonde is a journalist passionate about gender equality, social development programmes and grassroots-based solution seeking initiatives. She has a passion for women and community development. Phoebie is also a radio personality at a regional commercial radio station, a platform that enables her to network with like-minded women, journalists and activists as she continues to document and tell the story of the ordinary woman from the lens of that very ordinary woman.