In a stride for independence a Westridge man is working and asking for help to motorise his wheelchair.
Salie van Niekerk, 44, who was diagnosed with polio as a baby, works as the marketing manager of Cafe Classique at Westgate Mall, where he distributes flyers and engages with customers daily.
“I work with the public, and I have to ask them to help me to get to places,” he said.
Mr Van Niekerk said a non-motorised wheelchair required hard work to move around and that he did not have the energy to push it.
Speaking to the Plainsman last Wednesday, he said: “I don’t want the money. I’d like someone to come up to me and say, ‘Salie, here is the battery’.”
Earning only a stipend and disability grant, he cannot afford to buy two 36 Amp batteries from an accredited medical equipment supplier.
“I’d like to stay independent,” he said.
The divorcee, who lives with his mother, Shamiela, 64, and her husband, Ismail Jappie, said he was grateful for their support and help.
“I want to thank my mother and father (Mr Jappie) for taking care of me, as tough as it is with me in a wheelchair,” he said.
Mr Van Niekerk attended Eros School for Cerebral Palsy and Learning disabled, in Bridgetown, and he used to work in Athlone.
At the time, he earned a stipend, which did not cover his transport fees or put food on the table.
For more than 20 years, he collected money for the Greater Bulls Disabled Sports Club, and worked closely with the late Anthony George, Mitchell’s Plain community development worker and fierce defender of disabled people’s rights.
“I would just be so happy if I could just be mobile,” he said.
Mr Van Niekerk thanked owner of the cafe, Imraan Hassen, for the opportunity to work and the ability to show he is able to do something for himself.
“I don’t want to sit at home and do nothing.
“I also want to go into a store and buy something for myself,” he said.
“Disabled people should not give up. Always be motivated. I know it is easier said than done but try to things on your own,” he said.
The Plainsman contacted wheelchair and seating specialists CE Mobility, in Maitland, who said they were familiar with Mr Van Niekerk’s case.
They said two 36 Amp batteries would cost R3 440.80, which they would fit and needed to have transported to them at a cost of R350.
Martha Spruit, branch manager of the supplier, said the usual lifespan of the batteries was about a year.
“It depends on how well the client takes care of charging it every day and also how the chair is used, on which terrain,” she said.
She said they would prefer to fit the batteries at their workshop to ensure it was done correctly and for the charger to come with the chair to check if it was still working well.
As Mr Van Niekerk receives a disability grant and is a state patient, he would have to attend his local clinic, community health centre or hospital to access a motorised wheelchair which could take a long time.
Ms Spruit advised Mr Salie to still follow the state route in order for his needs to be known to the government and for him to be on their records or waiting list for equipment for his future needs.
Anyone willing to help or for more information call Mr Van Niekerk at 021 391 0639.
Monique Johnstone, provincial health department spokesperson for the Klipfontein/Mitchells Plain Substructure, said electric wheelchairs were available after clients had been thoroughly assessed at the Western Cape Rehabiliation Centre, on the grounds of Lentegeur Psychiatric Hospital.
Conditions to be given a motorised wheelchair include having an electricity supply to charge the battery and the wheelchair must be needed to keep the patient employed or earn a living.
Ms Johnstone said Mr Van Niekerk would have to visit his local clinic.