Wiping away tears of joy and happiness, Ntombilezi Phungula, or Mama Phungula as she is affectionately known, appeared stunned at being the centre of attention in her rural community. Surrounded by dignitaries whom included His Worship, the Mayor of eThekwini, Alderman Obed Mlaba, the District Mayor of Ugu District Municipality and the Regional Chairperson of the ANC, Cllr Sthembiso Cele, Inkosi P Duma, Izimpethuzendlovu Traditional Council, Dr Nevhutanda, Chairperson of the National Lotteries Board, and Ms Dudu Myeni, Executive Chairperson, Jacob Zuma Foundation, and a multitude of community members, Mama Phungula was overwhelmed at being the recipient of a generous donation from the Jacob Zuma Foundation. The celebration handover was made during a gala event held in her honour at KwaDumisa on Tuesday, 04 January 2011.
Suffering from a massive stroke in 2004 which left her paralysed and completely bedridden, this cruel blow of Fate would have left a lesser spirited person depressed and angry with their lot in life. Instead, Mama Phungula raised her six orphaned grandchildren single-handedly amid impoverished means, living in the deep rural area of KwaDumisa, approximately 36 kms south of Park Rynie on the South Coast. KwaDumisa falls under Ward Nine of the Vulamehlo Municipality. Squashed in to one dilapidated rondavel, she constantly worried about how she was going to feed so many mouths and give each an education that will stand them in good stead for their futures. Another menacing enemy is the elements. Mama Phungula and her charges spent every rainy night huddled under plastic sheeting in a futile attempt to keep warm and dry in their muddy hut.
The Foundation, through its Patron, Jacob Zuma and His Excellency, President of the Republic of South Africa, has a long-standing and deep-rooted relationship with Mama Phungula. She worked with the Patron’s mother, Ms MaMzobe Zuma in Durban, staying in Mkhumbane. In December 1962, Mr Jacob Zuma went to exile for his long-fought struggle against the apartheid regime and had to say his sad goodbyes to his mother and Mama Phungula, never knowing if he would see them again.
Replacing his Presidential mantel for his Foundation hat during the Christmas recess from Parliament, Jacob Zuma, through the Foundation, undertook to alleviate Mama Phungula’s suffering and hardship and adopted her cause as one of the Foundation’s upliftment projects. Addressing the dire needs of the most affected and impoverished members of deepest rural hinterlands are paramount to the Foundation’s objectives in line with its Mission Statement: ‘ To Break the Cycle of Inter-generational Poverty’. Sharing a crowded, self-built one-roomed rural hut with her grandchildren ranging from 12 to 23 in ages, the worst hardship Mama Phungula has to overcome daily is to rear her orphaned family; completely incapacitated and without any financial means, apart from the old age pension she receives from government.
Due to inclement weather, the Patron unfortunately could not fly in for the ceremony as planned, but the Foundation went ahead in its tribute to Mama Phungula and pledged its support and assistance. In addition to the King Koil bed and bed linen donated, the Foundation handed over a brand new wheelchair so that she can enjoy some form of mobility. Having had to previously lie on a grass mat on a hard floor – which makes a paradox of the term being ‘bedridden’ - this feisty grand dame of KwaDumisa ensures that the house is kept clean, the grandchildren educated and raised in a Christian environment. She is uncompromising in her discipline and teachings that the children grow into principled, honest, hardworking adults.
Mama Phungula’s plight touched many hearts and a number of partnerships were formed to ease her daily struggles and challenges. Chief among these are that she and her family will soon have a brand new home. Basil Read Construction has generously undertaken to fund this project, the building of which will be overseen and managed by the Jacob Zuma Foundation. In addition, the Food Bank has donated a year’s supply of much-needed basic food essentials. The Foundation’s Board will also be meeting to discuss the possibility of awarding education grants to the school-going grand children.
Addressing the crowds of well-wishers at the handover ceremony, Professor Nevhutanda, The Chairperson of the National Lotteries Board, said that Mama Phungula’s situation was an eye-opener to the many urgent needs in rural communities. “I have made a pledge to visit as many of these areas as possible to determine what we can do to assist deserving families and individuals to live a better life,” he stated.
In her address on behalf of the Patron, Ms Dudu Myeni, Executive Chairperson, Jacob Zuma Foundation, advised that the requests made by Mama Phungula will be met. “Her house will be built and her grandchildren will be assisted with education.” She also commended the good work done by the local leadership and the councillors, who are able to work closely with people.
“Mama Phungula’s plight is not different from many other destitute people who come in vast numbers to the Patron’s homestead during December. They seek his ear to present their cases and make their pleas to the Foundation, through him, as their last hope.”
Dudu concluded by saying that they will discuss and facilitate the water issue with the Mayor of Ugu District Municipality , as it falls outside the Foundation’s focus areas. “It is the wish of the Patron to alleviate the suffering of the downtrodden and impoverished people, whose voices are too soft to be heard”, Dudu concluded. A highlight of the event was the personal call made during the proceedings from the Patron to Mama Phungula, in which he apologised for not be able to be present at the handover. Mr Zuma said he hoped her new bed will give her much-needed comfort and that he looked forward to handing over the keys to her new home in the future. Mr Zuma reiterated the Foundation’s on-going commitment to assist impoverished rural communities and thanked her for her resilient spirit and steadfast endurance, despite the debilitating handicaps she is trying to overcome.