Sibusiso Mogale (30) is sharing his story to remind others that living with a disability doesn’t prevent you from living a fulfilling life.
“I was born without hands, the only person in my family to be born with this disability. My stumps have practically become my hands – I use them to write, draw and eat. Doctors were unable to tell me if it’s genetic. It doesn’t seem so because I have a two-year-old daughter and she has hands.
When I was young I didn’t realise I was different. I was five when my friends asked why I didn’t look like them. I was surprised because all along thought we were the same. Later, I realised those kids didn’t ask because they noticed the difference – they asked because their older siblings told them not to play with me because they thought my disability was contagious.
And so the bullying started. I went into a depression – I didn’t want to go outside, play with other kids or be seen in public. My self-esteem was at its lowest and I blamed God a lot. There were many nights when I prayed for hands, vowing to be the best child ever in return. But my hopes were shattered in the morning when all I saw were my stumps. It was devastating to go to bed every night with a heart full of hope, only to have it destroyed the very next day.
I eventually accepted I wasn’t going to wake up with hands, but my confidence was still low. I was shy to approach girls, ashamed and afraid of their response. When I did approach them and got rejected, I thought I was being rejected because I was an armless guy.
I stopped feeling bad
around the age of 18 when I realised I was hurting myself in the process. Up
until then, I attended a school for physically disabled learners because I felt
that’s where I belonged. But living with able-bodied people at home and
attending a school for learners with a disability made me feel torn between two
I decided to join a mainstream school. There, I got out of my comfort zone and took part in sports. I was awarded a sports scholarship for swimming and ended up travelling to many countries for world championships. I qualified for the 2008 Paralympics but couldn’t go because I needed to finish high school.
Travelling opened a lot of doors for me, but now I’ve found my way to farming. I was practically raised by my grandmother because my parents didn’t really want me as a child. Growing up, I was hurt that my mom would visit only on weekends, but now that I'm older I understand things better. My grandmother was a wonderful parent. She grew maize and potatoes and I started farming on a small patch of land in my mid-twenties as a tribute to her.
Working the soil gives me great satisfaction because it’s something I can do on my own, whether I use my toes or my stumps. Now I farm beetroot, cabbage, onions, spinach, green peppers, tomatoes, lettuce and mealies. I also dabble in poultry farming, selling my eggs and produce to street hawkers.
Many youngsters in our communities are unable to find jobs and end up becoming addicted to nyaope (black tar heroin). I’d like to get more young people into farming because in doing so, you can provide food and opportunities for yourself and others. Life is in the soil, not in the materialistic things that we buy.
I’d also like to own my own farm one day so I can hire people with so-called disabilities. I know many who want to work on a farm, but there aren’t many opportunities that are viable or accessible to them. We need to bridge the gap between ability and disability and do away with the word disability. It’s not a disability, it’s a different ability – we just do things differently.”