'Goodbye my little one' Ontlametse's former teacher bids farewell

2017-04-19 23:01
Ontlametse Phalatse (Supplied by the family)

Ontlametse Phalatse (Supplied by the family)

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Johannesburg – To find closure, one of Ontlametse Phalatse’s former high school teachers, Ms Lamb, sent one last Whatsapp to one of her favourite pupils.

“Goodbye my little one,” it read.

Phalatse died aged 18 on Tuesday, April 11, a day before her mother, Bella, and President Jacob Zuma’s 75th birthday.

Lamb was one of thousands of people who filled the Mmanotshe Moduana High School hall in Hebron, North West, on Wednesday to attend a memorial service for Phalatse.

Phalatse had progeria, a genetic disorder which causes premature ageing. She was born on March 25, 1999.

On that fateful Tuesday, Phalatse and Bella had gone to town to look for a tailor-made outfit which she wanted to wear at Zuma’s birthday celebrations in Soweto, to which she had been invited as a special guest.

Phalatse never made it to the celebrations. She told the taxi driver that she was struggling to breathe and that he must hurry home. She died at the Dr George Mukhari Hospital in Ga-Rankuwa from lung failure on Tuesday night.

While many were saddened by Phalatse’s death, the mood at her memorial was jovial.

Lamb, a counselor at St Dominican Convent School, where Phalatse matriculated, said when she first met her she was amazed at how tiny she was. She wondered how she would navigate the school, particularly the stairs.

She recalled that their first conversation went something like this: “Hi Onlta…please let me know if you need any help with school. She said ‘Hi miss, but I am fine’.”

From that moment Lamb new she had met one fierce and independent young woman.

Feeling of regret

On another occasion Phalatse looked at Lamb with her big bright eyes and asked for help with her English essay. Lamb said she knew it was the beginning of a lasting friendship.

Lamb said Phalatse stole her heart. Phalatse never missed an exam or a test, no matter how tired she was.

“I remember one moment she fell asleep during the exam. After a two minute power nap I went to her and told her she had to complete her exam. She said ‘Sure miss, I was just thinking very hard about the answer’.”

Lamb said on her matric dance, Phalatse looked breathtakingly beautiful.

She said when she heard that Phalatse had died, she was devastated.

“When she spoke people listened. She adored taking selfies and her and I spent a lot of time on Whatsapp. She used to say, ‘Hey miss, how are you?’ and I would respond by saying ‘Hi my little one, what’s new?’”

Lamb said after Phalatse’s brother confirmed her death on Wednesday, she was left with a feeling of regret because she never got to say goodbye.

“So to get some closure, I sent her one last Whatsapp message which read: ‘Hi my darling Ontla, I did not get a chance to say goodbye to you, you are flying high with the angels now, I miss you, I love you and you are always in my heart. Goodbye my little one’.”

Medical miracle

Seakgwe Phalatse, a family member, told mourners to celebrate her life.

“There will never be another Ontlametse so we should celebrate a life well lived, full of wonders.”

He said the family learnt that Phalatse had progeria when she was between four and six. Despite the diagnosis, she had soldiered on.

“At some stage in our own lives we have faced challenges that have rendered us hopeless, challenges that may destroy even the strongest of adults, but for Ontlametse these challenges started early in her life.

“Through all these adversities she soldiered on because she is Ontlametse Phalatse."

He said the older she got, the more apparent it became that she would not live long. Despite this, she defied doctors who said she would not make it past 14.

“That was a direct medical miracle. She went on to become a motivational speaker at the age of 18.”

Full and meaningful life

She had adopted a school and supported many causes, said Phalatse.

Her former high school principal, Graham Howarth, said often Phalatse became the teacher and he the pupil.

“Ontlametse taught us how to live, that shorter life expectancy was no barrier to having a full and meaningful life. She proved that size did not matter.”

Phalatse showed the country that it was the strength of character that mattered.

Howarth asked the gathering how many of them could say they had lived a meaning life like Phalatse.

Jacob Zuma Foundation chairperson Dudu Myeni announced that Zuma would attend her funeral in Hebron on Friday. If the human settlements department failed to build the family a home, the foundation would do it, she said.

It was always Phalatse’s dream to own a car, to build a home for her mother and meet Zuma.

She met Zuma just before her 18th birthday. On his birthday, he presented the family a car in her absence and promised to build them a home.

Read more on:    ontlametse phalatse  |  health

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