Eveline de Klerk
Bubbly Walvis Bay resident Faizel Cloete, despite being wheel-chair bound, is certainly no stranger to the residents of the town for his activism.
However, despite his positive outlook on life the 45-year-old Cloete has his own share of social and emotional challenges just like any other Namibian. But his motto is: go to work, enjoy being independent and live life to the fullest.
Cloete, who is a manager at a clothing retailer at Walvis Bay, has been wheelchair-bound for the past 26 years.
Last Tuesday he shared his personal experience of his transition from an able-bodied person to being wheelchair-dependent and the perception and challenges that come along with his life-changing handicap.
According to Cloete, he lost the use of his legs in a motor vehicle accident in 1991.
He says even though it was a very emotional road to recovery and rehabilitation for him, he remains thankful he is alive and can do almost everything for himself.
“I have accepted my physical challenge just like many others. But do you know how it feels not to be able to enter a shop and the attendant has to come out to you? Imagine all those piercing eyes inside the shop looking and feeling sorry for you! Imagine a taxi driver that refuses to stop for you! Imagine people carrying you up the stairs because there are simply no ramps for your wheelchair! But above all, put yourself in the shoes of those that simply cannot even get out of bed by themselves or eat by themselves! These are the daily life struggles that physically challenged people face all the time,” he explained.
Cloete has been living alone since after completing his rehabilitation programme. He says his brother wanted him to move in with him. “But I chose not to, because I wanted to maintain my independence which I value.”
He recalls an incident where he had to pay N$160 instead of N$40 simply because the taxi driver was not willing to accept him as a passenger.
“I lost a friend who was also wheelchair-bound. He could not deal with the pressure and ignorance of the society and committed suicide. Emotional scars are very difficult to heal and as an able-bodied person you should put yourself in our shoes and understand our situation as harm can be caused by reckless actions.”
Cloete loves going out and having relationships just like any other person, however some people still gawk at him strangely when they see him in he company of a woman.
“Some people are so insensitive they would ask about your sex life when they see you with a woman – that is how ignorant Namibians are,” he said.
He says foreigners seem more accepting and open to people with disabilities.
“I prefer dating foreign ladies mostly because they are more accepting and comfortable with physically challenged persons. Our own people look down on us and that is basically due to a lack of education.”
Cloete said physically challenged people do not need pity but just need a change of mindset of Namibians and businesses, both private and government, especially by those who provide essential services.
As a physically challenged person who feels left out he feels Namibia can learn a lot from South Africa regarding physically challenged people, adding that South Africa is more advanced in accommodating them.
“Shops are equipped with facilities for disabled people. Elevators have been adjusted to meet our needs and we even have dedicated tellers in South Africa. But it is not my country.”
“This is my story but it is shared by many around the world and in order to make changes in the society everyone must make a little effort to understand the needs of physically challenged people, as only then will they be able to make the adjustment that can bring our pride back,” Cloete said.