Muriel Susa, 65, has been working with disabled people since she was 17. She grew up in Vasco with her five siblings and parents and attended Vasco North Primary School.
During apartheid’s forced removals, her family were moved out of their home in Vasco and her father bought a house in Athlone, where she still stays. At the time, she was 11 and transferred to the Dutch Reformed Primary School in Athlone.
Her dad died a few years later, in the year she started high school at Alexander Sinton. She had to leave school after completing Standard Six (or Grade 8 as it’s now known) to help her mother provide for the family.
Ms Susa was just 14 when she started working at the Sweet and Lybro clothing factory in Woodstock. She started off as a runner, then became a machinist, and later moved on to a line manager position where she served as the first coloured supervisor at the factory.
As a 17-year-old teen Ms Susa started helping disabled people at the Saint Giles Association for the Physically Disabled, in Rondebosch. Every Monday, they had a social club evening and played games, exercised and went on different outings on a Sunday afternoon.
“It was suggested that we start a sports club, so I left the social group and started a sports club at Conradie Hospital in Pinelands. We stayed there for two years – we taught them how to throw the javelin, discus and shot put, and, on Wednesday evenings, we would train the basketball boys. After that, we moved to Bridgetown, to the Norah Roux Hostel, which was a training centre for disabled people, where we used their facilities to train our people thrice a week,” said Ms Susa.
There she helped the disabled with athletics training. In March this year, she went to Bloemfontein for the National Championships for Physically Disabled and Visually Impaired.
In 1978, she moved to another clothing factory, Rex Trueform in Salt River, where she worked until the age of 55 when she and about 65 other people were retrenched.
In 2011, Ms Susa, together with two other women, Marilyn Botto and Helen Jaggers, started a soup kitchen, distributing soup to the needy every Thursday at the Roman Catholic Church in Athlone.
“We cook 180 litres of soup and feed about 180 to 200 people every Thursday. Some of them come with their own two-litre containers, and we give containers to those who don’t have. We also give them a loaf of bread to take home with the soup. Some of them don’t have a place to eat, so we set up tables and chairs and they sit here and eat,” she said.
“I saw the need for this soup kitchen because there is so much poverty and unemployment in the area. Some people walk from Vygieskraal and Kewtown to fetch their soup, others stand in the line from 10am already, and we only hand the soup out at noon. Sometimes people donate oranges so we give that to them as well.
“It is such a pleasure to be able to feed the community. There is no discrimination. In some families, the husband and wife both stand in the line, that means two 2-litres of soup and two loaves of bread, but that’s not for me to judge. We give them the soup because sometimes it will be the only meal they’ll have for the day,” she said.
Ms Susa also helps people with their South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) enquiries and housing issues, writing to the authorities to query issues and giving feedback to those who have approached her for help.
“Many people come to me with different problems, even mothers whose children are on drugs. I tell them I will assist them to the best of my ability, but I am not a counsellor and they need to see someone professional. There are people who come to my gate and say, ‘Auntie Murie, daar is niks vir die pot nie.’ I give them a few potatoes, rice, onions, and some meat bones and tell them to make a pot of food with it,” she said.
“I am blessed to be serving the community, and I really enjoy this work so much.”