Eastridge community activist passes the baton

Eastridge community activist Rachel Maude Nelson, 66, who worked for many years in the community, demanding basic municipal services for residents and fighting for the rights of the homeless, breathed her last at Mitchell’s Plain District Hospital on Saturday June 5.

In recent months she had been in and out of hospital and spent the last two weeks at Beaconvale Community Frail Care Centre, in Beacon Valley.

Eastridge community activist Rachel Maude Nelson, 66.

Ms Nelson always had a joke to crack but was resolute that Mitchell’s Plain was a city on its own, that it needed services and that she was its “mayor”.

Solomon Philander, councillor for Ward 79 and chairman of Wolfgat Sub-council, recalls meeting Ms Nelson during the 2010 World Cup, when he was social worker, and she worked hard to provide services for people living on the streets of Mitchell’s Plain.

She was a founding member of the Mitchell’s Plain Local Network of Care, a dedicated group caring for people living on the streets. She last served as deputy chairperson of the network.

“She always fought to provide services to people living on the streets,” he said.

Mr Philander said she was a ward committee member, who kept him on his toes.

“Ms Nelson was always available and accessible to members of the community and did not worry what time of the day or night to call me,” he said.

Ms Nelson often reminded him that she was the mayor and that she paid his phone bill. “She would say, ’So, please phone me back on my airtime’,” he said.

Mr Philander said they received the news that the “mayor of Mitchell’s Plain Aunty Maude” had died with great sadness.

”I had the opportunity to know her as a passionate community worker,” he said.

He said they had a very close working relationship and that she called him “my son”.

Mr Philander said in her last days they had deep talks and that she had given her life for the community.

“I am saddened by her passing but I know that her long suffering medical condition has ended and she is in a better place. Go well mayor of Mitchell’s Plain,” he said.

Fellow community worker and friend, Carol Mentor, said Ms Nelson complained of a pain under her chest on Thursday June 3. She was then taken to Mitchell’s Plain Community Health Centre the next day and was then rushed to Mitchell’s Plain District Hospital, in Lentegeur.

“She worked beyond her hours and beyond expectations to ensure that her community was at ease,” said Ms Mentor. She would contact the council office to ensure that residents had water, electricity and something to eat.

“She had a huge heart. Maude used to skel but she was also a doer.

“She was a soft, kind-hearted person. We worked side by side and she was always challenging things that she was not happy with, no matter what the forum. She would raise her views. Nothing was too big or small for Maude to deal with,” said Ms Mentor.

Willy Simmers, Mitchell’s Plain Community Advice and Development Project co-ordinator, said a giant in the community development field has fallen.

He said Aunty Maude was the mother of a son, daughter and grandchildren, who could be very proud to have had a person like her in their family.

Her last tasks, as a grandmother, included taking and fetching her grandchildren from school.

She was the advice office’s treasurer for about four years and after a break returned as an additional member.

Mr Simmers said she was meticulous and curious to ensure that everything was done correctly. “A very helpful person in Mitchell’s Plain. She always tried to help with social problems. She was also a representative on a housing structure in Mitchell’s Plain.“

Mr Simmers said she would always question things. “Which was a very good balance to ensure everything was above board,” he said.

“We will miss her a lot. She served her community with love,” he said.

Ms Nelson’s funeral service was held at St Timothy’s Catholic Church in Tafelsig on Saturday June 12 and she was buried at Muizenberg Cemetery.

She is survived by her daughter Tracey James, son Marshall Nelson and five grandchildren.