An inspirational reflection on Ma Beatrice by Ms Shama Nathoo founding, and managing director, of Universal Accessibility Hub
Beatrice Thembekile Ngcobo (lovingly known as Ma Beatrice) was a Member of Parliament in South Africa since 2004, and was the Portfolio Committee Chairperson of Tourism from June 2014 until her untimely death on 18 February 2018.
I wish you were here with us to witness the birth of Universal Accessibility Hub. It’s been a few years since I first mentioned this vision of mine, to work around universal accessibility. I can’t begin to thank you enough for your love, guidance and blessings, and your belief that what I am doing is needed.
I first met you in May 2014, while I was serving as Minister Derek Hanekom’s Parliamentary Liaison Officer, where we immediately established a bond. We kept this bond even after I departed government. Your spirit was an inspiration – always smiling, jovial, positive and hard working. And always so beautifully dressed.
You never gave up. I was so honored when you shared the story of how you became disabled – at the age of 30, contracting a virus from a baby while you were the treating nurse. You did not let that change your path and you not only continued working, but were a strong figure within the health sector, and drove issues of accessibility across many sectors.
The memory of our Kwa-Zulu Natal oversight visit in September 2015 will always be with me. I recall our visit to a hotel in Richards Bay where you were placed in a room that, according to the hotel standards, was accessible. But your experience was not pleasant; and you could not access the shower. You shared the story with us over breakfast and your passion for universal accessibility and promoting the rights of the disabled was clear. You were adamant that people’s dignity should be respected.
On the same trip, we visited Tata Madiba’s capture site and you pointed out to the site managers that very little attention was given to the needs of the physically disabled. The distance between the museum and the sculpture was too far for anyone with physical challenges (including the elderly who would love to visit the site). And the path leading to the site was not wide enough.
The oversight visit with Arts and Culture showed so clearly that planners often look at the aesthetics and not always at the needs of the people who want to come to the sites – the needs of parents with toddlers, adults, elderly, and people with different abilities. We should be using our public resources to ensure inclusion and accessibility.
You also understood health challenges implicitly and held space for others to share. I could share my own struggles of living with ulcerative colitis, and discuss with you how people and institutions don’t understand the challenges of living with chronic illness and disabilities. These conversations also reminded me of my late mother, who worked with young children who were abandoned by their families because of their health challenges and disabilities. She showed me the importance of love and being present in a world where there is still so much prejudice.
The question is how do we change things so that the dignity and rights of persons with disabilities are central to our development?
UA Hub’s birth opens the space for dialogue and change that is much needed. You so openly showed us and shared with us how easy it is to remove barriers and that there is no need for discrimination between differently abled and able bodies.
Our constitution is founded on the principle of human dignity, equality, human rights and freedom. UA Hub will strive to making you proud of our implementation approach and creating a space where all are welcome to start a new conversation.
Rest in peace Ma. I know your hand still guides me, like the words you spoke to me when I brought you water from the Sacred Isivivane at Freedom Park, ‘it’s not how much water you bring me, but your intention to bring it and let me share in the experience’.
Love you always