Twenty years ago, on April 20, 1995, Zulu’s life changed in a split second when the car he was travelling in crashed and hit a wall. He wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. “This year, I am celebrating 20 years in a wheelchair,” he told the African News Agency at the sixth Tributes Excellence Awards event in Mangaung. The awards event, which honour exceptional women with disabilities, took place during the last week of August — women’s month in South Africa.
He never dreamt such an incident would happen so quickly, and see him go from being an active young man to a man confined to a wheelchair, half paralysed from the waist down. At the time, he was only 23 years old. Doctors told him he would never walk again. Initially devastated at the prognosis, he had to carve a new life out for himself and navigate his identity in more ways than one.
The accident affected him deeply and challenged his concept of masculinity, sexuality and what it means to be human. It also opened new doors of possibilities for him, and led to the first Tributes Excellence Awards event, which was initially held in Durban from 2010 until last year.
He shared that the concept to honour exceptional women with disabilities was his wife’s idea. “She asked me why I wasn’t doing anything for women with disabilities, and I asked her what I should do, and Tributes was born,” he said.
Zulu, who is an artist, motivational speaker, author and creative director of Valhalla Arts shared that his wife is his manger. “If it was not for her, I would not be the man I am today,” he admitted.
After five years in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, Tributes has moved to Mangaung, Free State, where it would remain for the next five years, until 2019. Zulu pointed out that the awards event honour women from different provinces.
“It was time to make it into something truly national,” he said. Zulu said the event, which in the past honoured 12 women, saw 20 women being honoured during 2014 to commemorate South Africa’s celebration of 20 years of democracy. Now, it has grown from 12 to 13 women, with a new category introduced this year, the International Award.
“The event needed to go outside KwaZulu-Natal and I needed to talk about the unusual outside the province and see if it made the dialogue made sense to people in other provinces,” he said.
The city of Mangaung, he said, has embraced the event as they are aware of the importance of disability, having already started up a disability forum in 2014. This, he said, is exciting. He also said he loved the idea of taking the event to the City of Roses and adding an element of romance to the event.
“I love glamour and being around women, and new developments are always exciting,” he said.
Zulu shared that happiness for him is “waking up with an idea that tests the limits of my possibility and that I can do it, and then do it”.
A disability expo took place during the Tributes event, and Zulu said the expo is part of the event as it helps to break down attitudes toward people with disabilities. The expo, Zulu said, “make it possible for people with disabilities to see themselves at work, and for other people to see the process and progress of work of people with disabilities”.
His said his message to society is: “I want people with disabilities to wake up and access their inner ability because in accessing that, we also access our self definition”.
Reflecting on the past 20 years, Zulu said: “I would not define it as a roller coaster but as a slow ride to heaven”. He paused, searching for words, and said, “It is a graduation”.
He explained why: “When we are born, we crawl, we walk and then we fly”. He said when he spins around in his wheelchair, talking to a crowd, he feels as if he is flying.
A disability he said, is not an inability to achieve your dreams for “It is better to be a beginner than a finisher because a beginner can still plot an amazing finish”.