Good morning and a warm welcome to our distinguished guests. Thank you for joining us today in what we trust will be a red-letter day in the history of RMA.
As the Chairman of RMA I am both proud and humbled to be here on the occasion of the long-awaited opening of the RMA Care Facility. It is good to see RMA’s vision of an own-care facility come to fruition as it will enable RMA to provide better long-term treatment and care for seriously injured pensioners.
Are you familiar with the word Sinako, and with it’s meaning? If not, here’s a quick isiXhosa lesson. Sinako means – “We can. We are willing and we are committed.”
These are poignant words, which encapsulate the ethos of differently abled people the world over, who have gone on to do great things.
Consider this for a moment a billion people, or more specifically 15 percent of the global population, experience some or other form of disability.
One-fifth of the estimated global total population, that is between 110 million and 190 million people, experience significant disabilities.
In the wake of a life-altering accident, particularly one that precludes a person from performing the job they once did, many people question how disability may impact on their identity.
Today I would like to share four stories of tremendous courage and triumph with you. Each of these individuals have successfully negotiated their own personal challenges and come so far in their journeys that they provide hope and inspiration to us all.
One such person is today’s host, Mdu Mathenjwa who is a testament to the strength and tenacity of the human spirit.
Eight years into his rehabilitation process, our Master of Ceremonies Mdu can look back on a journey that has brought him from despair in the wake of his injury on duty, to an inspirational workplace safety and keynote speaker.
Today he says that his accident was the catalyst not only for meeting the love of his life, Karien, but also for leading a more fulfilled life.
Following his medical care and compensation, which was funded by Rand Mutual Assurance, Mdu has expanded his career in ways he previously would have thought unimaginable. Because of this he generously volunteered to join us here today.
The story of 35-year-old Jemina Nkhale, a mother of two, further serves as an inspiration for each and every one of us. Following a mining accident in 2010, Jemina recalls that she was initially concerned about how she would manage to care for her young son after the amputation of her legs. Today she has a second child and is happily back at work in a different capacity.
Due to the nature of her injury, Jemina could not resume her former job as an underground mineworker. Instead her employer, Harmony Gold, reskilled Jemina and she now works in an administrative role.
I would like to tell you what she said when we spoke to her:
She said, “People often say to me, ‘You are always smiling,’ and I tell them, ‘Thank God, I’m still alive and I can do whatever I want to do’.”
Jemina says that critical to this shift in her self-image was a change in focus from her injury to the things that she was able to do. She says “I look at my abilities. I can make my house beautiful and clean, and since my accident I have been blessed with a daughter. I can look after my children and I am very happy to still be alive. The things I enjoy the most are cooking delicious food for my family and listening to gospel music, and I don’t need legs to do those things.”
Another Rand Mutual Assurance beneficiary, 56-year-old Willem Bekker, sustained an occupational injury to his ankle in 2010. In spite of a series of operations, his left leg had to be amputated below the knee in 2013.
While he had to allow some healing time before he could have a prosthesis fitted, Willem today refers to himself as a real ‘busy body’, who enjoys making things in his workshop. A boilermaker by trade, he happily admits that his first love is fishing.
Because of his love for fishing Willem started making fishing paraphernalia, including fishing rod stands and tackle boxes. He says that he is motivated by what he loves, and as a result he joined a fishing club.
Nowadays he takes part in league fishing, competitions and trials for fishing colours. People in the fishing club simply see him as “one of the guys” and different from anyone else. And he emphasises that his disability definitely does not stop him from catching the big fish!
Seventy-four-year-old Costa Chrisafopoulos is a woodwork craftsman and amateur painter, who has immersed himself in his hobbies since his retirement.
In 1965, when Costa was only 23, he was rendered paraplegic as a result of an underground mining accident. He spent 11 months in hospital, and the following year he resumed work in a different capacity at the same mine where he had worked before his injury.
Costa explains that he has always had an affinity for working with his hands, and had an interest in making household items that he and his wife needed. He taught himself woodwork and during his career he made things on the weekends out of wooden sleepers. When he retired, he had more time to dedicate to this hobby, and he and his wife also took painting lessons from a professional artist.
Costa says he does not feel defined by the fact that he is in a wheelchair. In his own words he says. “I was born in Greece and I still have some memories of the Second World War and the deprivation of the post-war years in Europe, which taught me to appreciate things and the value of life itself. I’m no different from other people, although I do consider myself fortunate to have a positive attitude.”
I can only hail the resilience and strength of Mdu, Jemima, Willem and Costa in the face of the tremendous personal struggles they have faced –and conquered.
While RMA covers the costs of medical care (including both physical and psychological rehabilitation therapy) for workers injured in the line of duty, some aspects of the recovery of these individuals and others like them are indeed deeply personal.
At RMA we do not reduce those who are in our care to a beneficiary number. We see value and potential in each person.
Our belief and hope in individuals who have been at their lowest point following a serious accident, are perhaps our most useful contribution to beneficiaries, as we have been told that this has helped people to restore their faith in themselves.
Such is the nature of the human spirit, that there are certain aspects of a person’s rehabilitation journey that they must negotiate for themselves, even with all the support in the world.
With the opening of this new, high-tech care facility here in Welkom, we hope to help others on their own paths to self-actualisation through providing an enabling environment, new opportunities and appropriate care tailored to the needs of each individual.
Rehabilitation can do much to help people build new lives for themselves in the wake of life-altering injuries, but the character and determination of the individual takes their potential to even greater heights.
It is our fervent hope that RMA’s new care facility, which will provide live-in care for beneficiaries who require it, as well as regular services for our other beneficiaries, will serve as the ideal environment for others to grow and develop beyond their expectations.
In-keeping with RMA’s philosophy of caring, compassionate compensation, this centrally-located facility will furthermore provide relevant specialist services and professional care, and offer residents the opportunity to acquire new skills.
It is most unfortunate that despite the considerable tenacity and achievements of so many differently abled individuals there are still those among us who do not recognise the ability and talent that are often left undiscovered in our disabled abled men, women and children.
Being disabled does not only pose a physical challenge to an individual, it causes financial and emotional strain for those individuals who are excluded from the economically active community and prevented from making a contribution. This naturally has a negative impact on their families, as well as on society in general.
Sustainable ways need to be sought to bring people with disabilities into our working communities. Instead of exclusively focusing on medical solutions, we need to focus also on sustainable socio-economic solutions.
Individuals with disabilities are all too frequently overlooked and there remains a misperception that they are less able to contribute to society. Our experience within the ambit of RMA’s work has repeatedly shown that people with disabilities can excel when they are only given the opportunity to do so.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development clearly states that disability cannot be a reason or criteria for lack of access to development programming and the realisation of human rights.
The Sustainable Development Goals framework includes seven targets, which explicitly refer to persons with disabilities and six further targets on persons in vulnerable situations, which also include persons with disabilities.
This framework addresses essential development domains including education, employment and decent work, social protection, sanitation, transport, and non-discrimination.
These factors, among others, represent important factors that need to be taken into account if we are to meaningfully reduce barriers to equality.
In closing, ladies and gentlemen and honoured guests, as you can see RMA remains as committed as ever to caring for our own.
At RMA it is our mandate and privilege to provide caring, compassionate compensation to people living with the effects of occupational injuries. We have placed considerable emphasis on improving awareness around disability and have made it a priority to assist, support and where possible up skill people who have sustained disabilities in the workplace.
We wish to encourage those who have been injured during the scope of their occupation to seek out opportunities in the knowledge and belief that they hold a valued place in society, as well as in the world of work.