Words: Andrea Vinassa
Durban journalism student Bongi Pearl Mdluli has been appointed as a Casual Day ambassador. The brave cancer survivor who agreed to have her left leg amputated to save her life is making waves in the media. And on the ground with her Confidence Driven Youth Club which uses storytelling, camps, speaking opportunities and events to raise funds.
She has grown her brand in a very short time, amassing 17 000 fans on her Facebook page.
Bongi has come on board to inspire communities to participate in Casual Day 2015, which takes place on Friday 4 September. Casual Day project leader Vanessa du Plessis says “We are privileged to be working this passionate woman who cares so deeply for the people around her. She will be inspiring everyone to dress in the Casual Day theme, Spring into Action. She was chosen because she has not let her disability stop her from making a difference in the world.”
Casual Day is South Africa’s most successful fundraising project for persons with disabilities – and the amount raised for last year has climbed to R28 million. Sponsored by The Edcon Group, Casual Day is the flagship project of the National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities in South Africa (NCPPDSA).
This is way Bongi was chosen as an ambassador: Originally from Bergville in KZN, she grew up in Vereeniging where she finished her matric at General Smuts High School in 2012.
But she was only 13 when tragedy struck. She was in grade 6 at Selborne Primary when her leg started to swell up. However, she was not taken to a doctor for a few months and when she finally saw a doctor, she was diagnosed with osteogenic cancer.
The doctors advised her parents that the only thing that would save her was an amputation, but they refused to sign the consent forms. Because she was in so much pain, Bongi took matters in her own hands, requesting the surgery herself. She courageously went ahead with the procedure despite a lack of consensus from her extended family.
After a few days in a wheelchair, she was up and learning to walk on crutches. “During my months of unpleasant chemotherapy, I learnt to accept the situation and successfully finished primary school during this time,” she says. But then she had to face high school, where she was bullied and became the butt of jokes and taunts.
Slowly she learnt to deal with the negative attitudes. “I stopped allowing others to define me and for my matric dance I chose an outfit that surprised everyone. I wore a fish-tale dress copied from the famous Bonang Matheba and eight inch stiletto heels. As I danced the night away, I thought about my journey.”
Then, she went against the grain again, moving to Durban. “I wanted to face challenges alone. I told my parents I wanted to face the world on my own - where I will meet people who make fun of me. And people who will meet the person I am now.”
Becoming a regular on radio and TV, she found that people wanted to learn from her. “I realized how many people are inspired by my story. I realized a lot of people lack self love because they let others control their lives.” Her social media accounts were inundated with messages from people thanking her for changing their lives.
She started a project called Confidence Driven were she shares stories, have camps, do public speaking, raise funds for the needy and visiting schools, hospitals starting from the rural areas to urban. She is also focusing on youth who feel that committing suicide is easier than dealing with bullying, ridicule and peer pressure.
The beneficiaries of Casual Day are:
National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities in SA
South African National Council for the Blind
South African Federation for Mental Health
Deaf Federation of South Africa
Autism South Africa
Down Syndrome South Africa
National Association for Persons with Cerebral Palsy
South African National Deaf Association
National Institute for the Deaf
Alzheimer’s South Africa
South African Disability Alliance
QuadPara Association of South Africa.
Stickers are available from:
Edgars, Jet, JetMart, Boardmans, CNA, Red Square and Legit;
Game and DionWired stores;
Shoprite and Checkers stores; and
Casual Day national office on 011 609 7006.