Nobantu Magdeline Ponoane lives in Zwelihle. She is 71 years old and from her meagre pension takes care of four live-in grandchildren. This is not an unusual profile; there are many, many Magdelines living in Zwelihle. What makes her story unique is the series of events which have recently unfolded around this doughty gogo, changing her life in a fundamental way.
Magdeline always loved working with her hands and in order to augment her income, she taught herself to crochet a range of attractive and practical products – hats, bags, mats – out of recycled plastic packets, which she sold at the Youth Café in Zwelihle. Then, last year, she heard that the Living Tapestry project was looking for embroiderers in her community, and she was quick to sign up. “I didn’t know how to embroider,” she confesses, “but my hands know how to learn.”
And learn they quickly did, to the extent that she won a Merit Award for the tondo she embroidered for the Tollman Bouchard Finlayson art competition during the 2019 FynArts Festival. However, one of the organisers of the Tapestry project began to notice that Magdeline always sat near a window to work. She wondered whether she had a problem with her eyesight. Magdeline admitted that she did find it difficult to thread a needle.
Photographer Clare Wise de Wet, another familiar face around the Youth Café arranged to take her to Luzelke van Heerden of the Village Optometrist in Eastcliff, who sponsored an eye test for her. The results were astonishing: Magdeline had only 10% – 20% total vision. No wonder she relied on her hands to learn new skills! The Hermanus Hospital confirmed that she had advanced cataracts in both eyes and she would have to go to Worcester Hospital for the necessary operations. The problem was, there was a waiting list of two years!
This was when the little team of benefactors surrounding her went into top gear. Ann Mapham, one of the Tapestry organisers took her to a private ophthalmologist in town, who not only did not charge her for the consultation, but volunteered to operate on the left eye the very next day and the right eye a week later, pro bono. At Spescare Hospital Magdeline was treated like a queen, at a bargain basement rate, which was generously covered by Ann.
“Yoh! Yoh! Yoh!” was Magdeline’s excited response when the final bandages came off. “I started to clean the house straight away; I didn’t know there was so much dust. And now the children can’t trick me anymore. When they bring a letter from the teacher, I can see what she says and I can sign the letter. They’ve got to behave themselves now,” she chuckles. There has also been a noticeable improvement in the quality of the embroidered cushion covers she has added to her marketable output. She has been given a pair of generic reading glasses, and these may need to be replaced with prescription spectacles in time.
However, this is not the end of Magdeline’s story. One day, over tea, she mentioned that her greatest desire in life was to bite into an apple again, but since she had had no teeth since 1980, this dream was never likely to be realised. Once again the dream team mobilised, arranged for her to see a local dentist and voilà, the apple is waiting and she is currently being fitted with a brand-new set of dentures, again at no cost to her. She feels she has literally been born again.
All those who have facilitated the rebirth of Magdeline in a spirit of loving-kindness agree that the excitement and joy it has given her have enriched their own lives beyond measure.