• Xoliswa Ndlazulwana is a Supply and Trading Administrator at Engen.
• She was paralysed at the age of 16, and even went back to school after missing two years to pass matric.
• Now, she’s learning to drive through one of Engen’s driver programmes.
Xoliswa Ndlazulwana has had more than her fair share of obstacles thrown at her throughout life, yet she’s risen above all of it and proves to be an inspirational woman who has never given up on herself.
“Wathinta abafazi wathinta imbokodo.” (You Strike a Woman, You Strike a Rock.) Channelling the famous rallying cry of the 20 000 brave women who marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in 1956 to fight for freedom, Engen employee Xoliswa Ndlazulwana used the sheer force of her character to bounce back from extreme hardship and be a shining inspiration to all. The Khayelitsha local was left paralysed from the waist down after contracting Tuberculous Meningitis (TBM) which affects the brain and spinal cord at the tender age of 16. Then, while fighting for her life in hospital, her father died at a time when she needed him most.
Two extremely fraught years followed her raw emotion bubbling to the surface as she recollects a burdened time when she lost her independence. “I was as helpless as a newborn baby and unable to go to the bathroom on my own,” says Ndlazulwana.
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“As a Grade 8 student at South Peninsula High School in Diep River, this was extremely traumatic, and I felt vulnerable and exposed as I no longer had any privacy.”
Despite this, she’s grateful to her family for their continued support, especially her late mom, who will always be her hero.
“My mom helped me survive at the lowest point in my life and find a way to accept and adapt to the new version of myself.”
After being wheelchair-bound for two years, Xoliswa was ecstatic when she started to get some feeling back in her legs. Through immense grit and determination, she could eventually stand on her own.
Despite missing two years of school, Xoliswa fought back to pass matric and later, through support from her current employer Engen, she obtained a paralegal diploma.
For the past seven years, she has worked as a Supply and Trading Administrator at Engen’s head office in Cape Town.
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Not one to rest on her laurels, Xoliswa is currently enrolled in the Engen-supported Disability Economic Empowerment Trust (DEET) driver programme to add a driving licence to her already impressive list of achievements.
Xoliswa says Engen has partnered with the DEET to launch a training programme for people with disabilities that will assist them with all the requirements and skills required to pass their driving licence and enter the job market. The driver programme will comprise of 20 hours of lessons.
Learning to drive would mean the world to Xoliswa and give back her independence. “I always wanted to drive,” she says.
“About three years ago I did my learner’s licence and I passed, but did not have the funds to continue to learn how to drive.
“I want to drive my own car one day because it is a struggle to move around without transport. I used to wake up at past 04:00 to get ready for Dial-A-Ride transport to fetch me and I would come back past 19:00 at night. Then I still have to attend to my son with school work and I would normally get to bed at 23:00. My late mom used to assist me but now I have to wake up even earlier than that because I have to prepare myself and my son.
“I have come along way to be where I am today and dreaming of owning a vehicle is the feeling I just don’t know how to describe. It would improve my, and my son’s, quality of life and allow me to spend more time with him.”
Xoliswa says she doesn’t mind what car she gets to own one day, as long as it’s a car for her, and she’s determined to make it a reality.
But getting to where she is today has taken immense determination and courage.
“Most people do not understand the daily struggle I have to endure just to get through a basic day because everything I do take so much longer than it does for an able-bodied person,” says the single mom of a 10-year-old boy.
“My son is my greatest gift. He means the world to me, and my love for him gives me the strength to endure my daily challenges so that he can have everything that he deserves.”
But sadly for Xoliswa, many people still have little understanding or empathy.
Xoliswa strongly supports women encouraging one another and believes women should stand for themselves and never depend on others for their survival.
“We really need to encourage one another more and fight back against Gender-based violence.
“I am the queen of my castle because I love myself and have so much respect for all women out there.”
Xoliswa says working for Engen has changed her life.
“My previous employer was discriminatory and used to complain about how long it took me to go to the bathroom.
“Engen is 100% supportive, and disability inclusion is one of the company’s key social investment focus areas.”
To stay grounded, Xoliswa listens to music that calms her down and allows her to focus on the positive things that have happened in her life.
“When I’m down, I shift focus and smile because I have my son to care for.
“My greatest wish is that I will still be here to see him graduate.”
As a company, Engen champions the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 5 – Gender Equality, which aims to end gender inequality through actions that eliminate discrimination that curtail women’s rights in both the private and public spheres.
The company is keenly aware that equality is everybody’s business and that it owes it to its employees, customers, and broader society to make every effort to drive positive change. We celebrate Xoliswa for her bravery and phenomenal success and salute all the women of South Africa.
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