Retired Gugulethu social worker honoured

Professor Nomvula Mthethwa believes in helping others.

Lack of funding continues to be the main obstacle for NGOs working in different communities, particularly black townships, forcing these groups, most of whom play a critical role towards community development, to shut down, says Professor Nomvula Mthethwa.

The retired University of Transkei (Unitra) lecturer has called on big businesses and government to pump funds into NGOs that add value to society and change peoples lives for good.

In an interview with Vukani at her house in Gugulethu, to celebrate her receipt of this year’s Community Chest Amelia Jones trophy during the Provincial Social Workers’ Awards, Professor Mthethwa, who graduated as a social worker in 1961, said social workers and community organisations played a pivotal role in society.

And it was for her role as a young and retired social worker that she got the honour. The award recognises individuals who have excelled in the profession.

During her career as a lecturer and a social worker, Professor Mthethwa started many initiatives to improve and change peoples lives.

But, it has not always been a smooth sailing. However, she persevered and continued to be the beacon of hope to scores who had nowhere to go.

When she arrived at Unitra in 1982, she had first-hand experience of how people struggled to make ends meet.

Coming from a Cape Town that was under siege by apartheid forces, she was free to do whatever she wanted without being questioned. She began a gardening project in Xhugxwala Village to also give her students first-hand experience on gardening. “I went there with the intention of staying for two to three years, but I got the freedom of doing things by myself without being judged,” she said.

She continued her work in the former Transkei until she retired and returned to Cape Town in 2000.

However, having spent many of her years away from home, Professor Mthethwa saw the move back to Cape Town as an opportunity to invest her time in people’s lives.

The year was not without challenges though.

“It was not a good year for me as both my mother and brother died that year, but I could not sit back and fold my arms,” she said.

Born to a family heavily influenced by politics, Professor Mthethwa was taught at a young age to always take care of the next person.

And now at 82, she still firmly believes in helping others. “I feel that I am who I am because of my mother.

“She was so involved in the community.

“I believe she is one of the unsung heroes of our country,” she said. With the help of successful individuals from Gugulethu and Langa, Professor Mthethwa runs the successful Community Plough Back Movement (CPBM), one of her many initiatives. The project was launched in 2002 to respond to some of the challenges faced by the communities of Gugulethu and Langa.

The project is divided into three components: food gardening, sewing and performing art. To date it has more than 100 people working as part og on Extended Public Works Programme in Gugulethu, Nyanga and Langa.

It also has a womens sewing group, producing top of the range traditional outfits, while providing young people with opportunities to unearth and showcase their skills.

“We had to invest in people to improve their lives,” she said.”But the biggest challenge is funding.”