Facing the Challenges
Gcwalisile grew up in a small village in rural KwaZuluNatal. Her father was a leader in their community and always lending a helping hand to others with less. “I was the oldest of 6 children and very close to my father. I think I was closest to his heart. He taught me that one is saved to serve and to a great extent, I got my giving spirit from him.”
“He was very proud of me when I went to university, but after suffering heartache and personal loss, I decided to apply for a bursary at a Canadian university on a whim and got it!” She left for New Brunswick in 1990, and that’s where she met her husband; a Xhosa man from the Western Cape. “This is always a major challenge in our culture and my relative, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi first had to give permission for us to marry. Luckily, he said yes, because I think I would have married him anyway,” she smiles.
After they returned to South Africa and were married for a while, Gcwalisile moved back to her hometown in KwaZulu-Natal to help out with her father’s cultural business and also care for him during the last few months of his illness.
Her husband moved to Paarl with their three children. “When I eventually joined them, it was very challenging because there is much less of a collective feeling of uBuntu, or communal caring for one another than what I was used to.” Even when she set up her organisation with the sole purpose of helping and uplifting members of the community, she was still mistrusted and accused of trying to enrich herself.
“It hurts when the people you are trying to help don’t trust your motives,” she explains. “I’m educated, and I know how to raise funds and manage a charity. We run it as a business, and I have other interests and projects as well. I use the profit from my printing business to financially support many of these charitable projects.”
“Unfortunately, many women in this country suffer from ‘pulling her down syndrome’, where they don’t want to see another woman succeed or accomplish anything. They’d rather pull her down back to their level. This is very sad. As women, I believe we need to support one another. We have eyes to see where help is needed and motherly instinct that should go far beyond the needs of our own families.”
“The toughest time in my life was definitely when my husband was in a coma in ICU for 37 days. I prayed through it and made a promise that I would serve God with everything I’ve got if he was healed. He was healed completely. He left nothing of his illness and that’s part of the reason I believe we should bring forth God’s glory in all encounters we have with people.”
We Shall Overcome
In 2008 Gcwalisile started an organisation with three different outreach components; the child-headed households, the elders club and the homeless people. They each have different needs which the organisation tries to meet. “We buy groceries, school uniforms and give counselling and guidance to the children who have to carry the burden of running a household and taking care of younger siblings without being properly equipped, financially or emotionally, to do so. For the elders, we organise speakers and have craft mornings to give them something to do and something to look forward to in an otherwise tedious and monotonous existence. The homeless people receive blankets covered in plastic in winter and food once a week.”
“We try to give all three these groupings a sense of purpose and hope, and we help them deal with their challenging situations,” Gcwalisile explains.
Gcwalisile also works closely with schools to grow their own vegetable gardens. Once a year, she organises a ‘girls and mothers’ conference which aims to promote leadership, financial management skills and leading a healthy lifestyle. Qolothani Makhosikazi Social and Cultural Services also supports skills development workshops, which teach local women beadwork and then markets their handiwork both locally and internationally.
At the End of the Day
Dr Gcwalisile Kabanyane received recognition for her community work by being awarded the 2011 Inyathelo Award for Community Philanthropy, and while she has an impressive CV, you won’t find any arrogance about any of these accomplishments in her humble demeanor. She is a true academic, published author and dynamic leader, but she is also a true lady and a gentle, serving spirit who is following in her father’s footsteps to leave a lasting legacy of selfless giving and sharing in her community.
Watch a video about her here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7J6_M5zY44