Taxi accident couldn’t crush her dreams

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Nthabiseng Molongoana in front of her award-winning guest house, Lentha's Lodge. PHOTO: MARICELLE BOTHA

At 18 years old Nthabiseng Molongoana was an active able-bodied woman with a dream of studying towards a university degree. After being disabled in a taxi accident, Molongoana rose to the challenge of her new life and started her own business while still having a full-time job.
Originally from Botshabelo, she attended Mariasdal Catholic School in Tweespruit where she learned that academic achievement was the key to success in life. Her dream was to go to university to become a teacher, but due to financial restraints and the fact that her parents were still paying for her brother’s education, she decided to enroll at a teachers’ college in Mogwase, situated in the old Bophuthatswana.
Academically she was doing well and in her second year she decided to take a chance at doing a teaching degree through the University of South Africa (Unisa). Life was good. “In my head I was on the right path to success,” Molongoana says.
One afternoon Molongoana and a group of friends decided to do some shopping in Rustenburg, not far from Mogwase. They got into a taxi on a rainy day. As they wanted to depart, the taxi didn’t want to start. Some of the boys got out of the taxi and started pushing it. The taxi started and the driver made an illegal U-turn, colliding with an oncoming car.
This was the last Molongoana remembers of the day that changed her life for ever. After some time in the then George Stegmann Hospital in Saulspoort, doctors realised that her injuries were extremely severe and that she needed better medical care. She was then moved to George Mukhari Hospital (formerly Ga-Rankuwa Hospital) in Pretoria. There doctors first thought she had a brain injury but then saw that she had major spinal trauma. She was moved to the spinal ward were she was told that she was paralysed from the neck down.
“I couldn’t understand why family members were crying next to my bed. I thought, I’m alive …”
Molongoana was hospitalised for nine months. During that time she was also treated by a psychologist and an occupational therapist, Erika Geertsen. “I could see the hope in their eyes and I followed it. But even while I was going through all these motions, I still did not think of the future. I only thought about going back to university. Erika realised this and knew I needed to understand that my life would never be the same again,” Molongoana continues her story.
It was agreed that she should go for a career preparation assessment. Sadly, she failed the assessment. She remembers being nervous, emotional and having spasms. “It broke my heart. For the first time I felt disabled.” Eventually, Erika had a much-needed heart-to-heart conversation with her. Molongoana decided to continue with the assessments and passed.
By the end of her nine months in hospital she stood in front of a big question once again. Her parents were separated by this time and the question was, was she going to live with her father in Botshabelo or her mother in Bloemfontein. She moved in with her mother but soon they realised that her ageing mother would not be able to take care of her daughter by herself. Erika then told Molongoana of the Association for People with Disabilities (APD Free State) and the Jean Webber Home in the city – a unique residential empowerment facility for persons with severe physical disabilities.
Shortly after this, Molongoana began working as a switchboard operator at the APD Free State office. And with a lot of motivation from a newly made friend at the APD, Ellen Gaborone, Molongoana finally registered as a first-year student at the University of the Free State (UFS) in 1996. “At that time, the university was not very accessible and I was too embarrassed to ask other people for help to get to class or go make photocopies in the library.” This caused her to fail all of her subjects. But she didn’t give up. “In 1997 I did some serious soul searching and the next year I went back with a changed mind. I wanted to succeed.”
At the APD she was assisted to get legal advice and to take on the Road Accident Fund. With her case being concluded in 2000 she finally had the financial means to support herself, complete her studies and do something for her dedicated mother. In the same year Molongoana’s mother was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer and her health was deteriorating daily. “I thought to myself: My mother was born in poverty, she is not going to die in poverty.” She then decided to build her mother the home she had always dreamed of. Her mother picked out a property in Langenhoven Park and Molongoana built her dream house.
Molongoana wrote her last exams in 2004 and stood on the verge of achieving her dream. She obtained a Bachelor of Science degree with Statistics and Psychology from the UFS. But her success was bitter sweet – her mother passed away less than a month before her graduation.
Today Molongoana still works at the APD as the Job Placement and Advocacy Manager and runs the house she built for her mother as a very successful guesthouse. Lentha’s Lodge as it is known, has already won numerous prizes. Molongoana and her son live at the lodge and are making this business a true family affair.
Under mentorship of Risna Opperman of the SAB Foundation Tholoana enterprise development programme, Molongoana believes her goal of one day owning a chain of guesthouses is definitely an achievable one.
For more information on the lodge go to www.lenthaslodge.co.za. – Maricelle Botha 
maricelle@centralmediagroup.co.za