CityPress - - News - ATHANDIWE SABA athandiwe.saba@city­press.co.za

Tshepo Machaea will never for­get the mo­ment that changed his life. It was the bru­tal rape and mur­der of 10-year-old Non­tombi Ti­makwe in Zim­bane Val­ley out­side Mthatha in the Eastern Cape. She was walk­ing home from Ikhwezi Com­mu­nity Pri­mary School in Oc­to­ber 2005 when she was ab­ducted and mur­dered. Her fam­ily didn’t have enough money to give her a de­cent burial.

This tragedy – which hap­pened in Nel­son Man­dela’s home town – and the fam­ily’s mis­for­tune touched Machaea deeply and he de­cided to do some­thing about it in the spirit of Madiba. He ral­lied the com­mu­nity to do­nate money to help the fam­ily bury the girl.

Re­call­ing how Man­dela once shook his hand, Machaea said he knew from the tragedy that help­ing the less for­tu­nate was his call­ing.

“The day Man­dela shook my hand, he told me that if you take care of God’s peo­ple, He will take care of the rest. And that is what I have been do­ing,” he said this week.

Ev­ery year at about this time, his or­gan­i­sa­tion is over­whelmed by Man­dela Day gen­eros­ity with of­fers of help from nu­mer­ous peo­ple.

And af­ter that ini­tial act of good­will, re­quests for as­sis­tance from poor fam­i­lies started stream­ing in.

Over the years, Machaea has be­come the go-to per­son for poor fam­i­lies who can­not af­ford to bury a loved one. With some of his church mem­bers, Machaea reg­is­tered a not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion, the Ibandla Lasemthini Evan­gel­i­cal Move­ment.

“We de­cided on the name as mthi means tree in isiXhosa and that is where any­one, whether you are poor or rich, can get shel­ter from the sun or the harsh con­di­tions of life,” said Machaea.

Although he has a full-time job and a fam­ily, Machaea says he still wants to help peo­ple who are strug­gling or alone.

One of the or­gan­is­ers in the move­ment, Ba­balwa Mtum­tum, said one of the sad­dest projects she worked on was that of a 73-year-old woman from Lusik­isiki, who was raped, wrapped in a grass mat and found three days later. “When we were called in, she couldn’t even walk. She was liv­ing in one room with her grand­child, with­out a stove or any­thing.

“We got to work by speak­ing to busi­nesses, ask­ing for do­na­tions and get­ting her med­i­cal at­ten­tion. It was truly sad, but now she has a wheel­chair and her new house is nearly fin­ished,” said Mtum­tum.

She said ear­lier this year they also buried a for­mer crim­i­nal who had died three days af­ter he was re­leased on med­i­cal pa­role.

“His wife had died, his chil­dren were young and had no idea what to do with his body in their home. The com­mu­nity and his fam­ily had shunned him for the crimes he had com­mit­ted.

“We de­cided it was not our place to judge him and made sure he re­ceived a dig­ni­fied fu­neral, at least for the chil­dren’s sake,” she said. Over the years, their work has evolved to reach­ing out to peo­ple liv­ing on the streets. “We as­sist in feed­ing them from a soup kitchen ev­ery day. We en­sure they wash and feel some level of self-dig­nity. Our town has a lot of what peo­ple call ca­sual work­ers, who also sleep on the street,” said Machaea.

“Peo­ple pick them up from the street and give them a piece job, but at the end of the day they have to re­turn to the streets. “We help them by en­sur­ing that, when they go to work in the morn­ing, they have had a good night’s sleep and are well fed.” Machaea said he had al­ways had an affin­ity with the poor and less for­tu­nate be­cause of his own dif­fi­cult up­bring­ing. His fa­ther had died when he was very young and his mother was left as a sin­gle par­ent with chil­dren to care for. The move­ment is the place for peo­ple in Mthatha to go if they want to vol­un­teer.

Mtum­tum said they were in­un­dated with calls ev­ery year dur­ing Man­dela month – with peo­ple want­ing to find out how they could spend their 67 min­utes.

“This is our daily work, but it’s al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated when peo­ple want to help, no mat­ter what. We have many so­cial ills in our poor com­mu­ni­ties, and the more aware­ness there is, the more peo­ple we can get to as­sist when we need to bury some­one or feed or clothe a child,” said Mtum­tum.

Tshepo Machaea

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