Alexandra woman defies the odds

Monday, January 8, 2024

Gabi Khumalo

A love for dance has helped Nkateko Emily Mabasa defy the odds to become a community builder.

And we all know just how important a role communities can play in shaping who we become tomorrow. However, like with most things in life, it has not been an easy path for Mabasa.

The now 33-year-old Mabasa was diagnosed with mild spastic diplegia/diparesis Cerebral Palsy. This form of disability is characterised by frequent spasms and muscle tensing which saw her undergo an operation when she was seven years old.

While she had to use a wheelchair as well as go for physiotherapy throughout her school years, Mabasa’s medical condition did not stop her and she learned to walk, using crutches.

“I had difficulty speaking, which required that I get speech therapy. At 12, I was given my first set of crutches, which I have continued to rely on. These crutches has served as an indispensable aid in my day-to-day activities, and I have come to regard them as an essential part of my life,” Mabasa explained.

Growing up in Alexandra township in Gauteng, Mabasa described herself as someone who loves life, and always pursues her goals with vigour.

Armed with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Design, Mabasa is a strong believer of an inclusive and secure society, which drives her to show everyone that there is so much “beauty in our differences”.

It is not surprising that with her background, Mabasa is the founder of Phoenix Alexandra - an organisation that provides a range of activities for children and young adults to participate in. These activities include dancing, singing, drama/acting, spelling bees, modelling, a reading club, poetry, and chess club.

The idea to set up the organisation came after her friend, Joseph Setlhake, asked her to arrange a dance group to entertain people at an event in November 2020.

“Knowing that I am a dancer, he thought it would be a good idea to have me handle it. At first, we only had three people, but the number of children quickly grew to 40 before the event. Despite having only six weeks to prepare, we managed to pull it off, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

The organisation’s programmes cater for children between the ages of six and 17, as well as young adults who are committed to their growth and eager to learn about a positive body image, kindness, and the value of hard work.


Despite the challenges associated with running an organisation, Mabasa’s Phoenix Alexandra has emerged stronger and continues to work with children to help cultivate their interests.

“As a community leader with a disability, I face challenges in securing funding and space for rehearsals and activities. I have been funding Phoenix Alexandra since its inception, and we utilise a limited space in front of my house for our rehearsals and activities.

“Additionally, to raise funds, I take bookings for motivational talks at corporate events. We have received support from parents through small donations, enabling our organisation to go on educational trips and do local performances for the community in the three years since our establishment,” she said.

The organisation is always looking to form partnerships with companies or like-minded organisations.

By working together, “we can make a meaningful difference in the lives of others and create a more inclusive society,” she said.

Making a difference

Apart from having established the organisation, Mabasa is a Gold Award holder in South Africa for the President's Award for Youth Empowerment/Duke of Edinburgh International Award.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is the patron-in-chief of the President’s Award for Youth Empowerment. It is an initiative that encourages young South Africans to embark on a life changing journey that will mould them into responsible and committed individuals.

The Duke of Edinburgh award for its own part, dates back to 1956 and was initially intended for boys between the ages of 14 and 18  to assist in their development post World War 2. In 1958, the initiative was expanded to include girls.

In the 1980s, the scope of the award was broadened to include a skills section and the age limit extended to age 24. In 1994, the award programme was re-branded to cover the entire scope of youth empowerment. The award encourages young people from various backgrounds to become responsible, active citizens within communities.

Mabasa also served as a Director for The President's Award for Youth Empowerment/Duke of Edinburgh International Award Gauteng Youth Committee from 2018 to 2019.

“I am an entrepreneur, poet, dancer, choreographer, fashion designer, motivational speaker, and model. In 2017, I was recognised as a role model by the Valhalla Arts Tributes Awards, and in 2023, I was awarded the Sunday World Unsung Hero for the youth in Sports, Arts, and Culture award. These achievements have motivated me to continue making a difference in the lives of others,” she gushes.

Mabasa’s comments follow on the back of Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s address to the Representative Council of Learners Conference last year, in which she said that in the 21st century, South African youth must play a critical role in shaping the country’s future.

“As the generation that will inherit and lead the nation, youth have the potential to drive positive change, overcome societal challenges, and build a more inclusive and prosperous South Africa,” said the Minister in June 2023.

Mabasa is also the author of “Celebrating our differences embracing my superpowers”, a children’s book on disability.

Asked what the future holds for her organisation, Mabasa envisions expanding the scope of the organisation's services to encompass a broader range of underprivileged communities.

“This strategic move is aimed at serving a broader base of individuals who are in dire need of our services. Pursuing this goal, we remain committed to our core values of excellence, compassion, and professionalism.”

Her advice to young people, especially those living in townships and with disabilities, is that “every decision you make can influence your life.”

“Choose wisely and never let uncertainty prevent you from moving forward - because everything starts in your mind. I embrace my disability, but I never let it define my life.” -