Elderly home founder

Marjorie Manganye

At 81 Marjorie Manganye is still energetic and hands on. “Ma”, as she is affectionately known, is the founder of the Itlhokomeleng (Sesotho for “help yourself”) Association for Aged and Disabled Persons.

Whenever Ma appears the residents and staff of the home stop what they’re doing to listen to her, to answer her enquiries about their wellbeing or to talk about what must be done for the day.

The story of why Ma Manganye began her work with the elderly is not one she likes to talk about. For years she had had visions predicting that her work lay in service to others. She didn’t quite understand them until one Wednesday afternoon in 1978. Manganye was working as a tuberculosis information officer when an elderly woman died while waiting to receive her state pension.

“I knew then that this was the thing God had been calling me to do — to help elderly people who had no one.” The following Monday she resigned from her job.

That year she established Itlhokomeleng. The project began as a women’s club in a church and although she has gone on to become chief executive of the association, she is adamant that it is a “community project”, with residents from Alexandra volunteering their services. Believing that old-age homes should not merely be places where old people are left to live out their final days, she encourages younger people to become involved in the home. Now a few young people have permanent jobs there and share her passion.

She never strove to become the “Mother Theresa of Alexandra”, nor did she imagine that she would meet and spend time with Cabinet ministers or President Jacob Zuma, who recognised the value of her work. All she wanted, on that day many years ago, was to create a place where the elderly and disabled would feel cared for. One of the more famous residents of Itlhokomeleng was Hector Peterson’s father, who lived out his final days there.

Itlhokomeleng, which cares for 91 elderly and disabled people, has a staff of 54 who ensure that all the residents receive healthcare, nutritious meals, security, comfortable living quarters and, most of all, individual attention.

No one is turned away. Whether they are brought in by the police, by the community or they hear of her services on a community radio station, they know they have a home at Itlhokomeleng.

“I’m 81 years old, but I keep going because of the love I get from everyone.”