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7th October 2020


Created by Kelelo Maepa and Selinah Mahlangu.

‘…there was a surprise for her (Sr Majella) during the board meeting…she was so happy to see the cloth we made for her. There were all the Sisters on the cloth and the skills around the place…Sr Majella is a marvelous person.’ (Kelelo Maepa)

So, who is Sr Majella and why did the Mapula Production Board decide to make this cloth for her? Sr Majella shared her journey to the Winterveld 23 years ago and described her life, in a recent interview.

After finishing her studies in Ireland, she was sent to DeWildt (NW Province) to start a school and serve as principal. ‘I nearly died of fright!’ she said, but she survived and the school flourished under her leadership. After 14 years she was transferred to a school in Soweto, where she guided the school through the troubled political times of the 1970s. She speaks fondly and with admiration of her students whom she describes as mature and committed to ‘The Struggle’ for justice.

In 1997 she ‘got another fright’ when her Superior sent her to lead the work of the Sisters in the Winterveld. The Sisters had started their work in the Winterveld by buying a large, empty plot of land. Here they erected a multipurpose Zozo hut, started a crèche, and built a clinic. The clinic provided a critical service providing ARVs (Anti-retroviral therapy) at a time when they were not universally available. Despite this Sr Majella remembers a time when there were 20+ funerals every Saturday at the graveyard next to their property. Later the bishop allocated a further piece of land and built a structure which is used as a church.

By the time Sister Majella arrived in the Winterveld, the DWT Nthathe Adult Education Centre had been established. Initially this was to upgrade the skills of underqualified teachers. Now it offers much needed basic education up to matric level to youth and young adults who have dropped out of the formal education system. A literacy and Adult Basic Education Training project were also started by the Sisters. Unfortunately, and to Sister Majella’s regret, the take-up of the course has been limited. She feels this is holding back the advancement of the adults in the Winterveld. There is a sentiment in the community that schooling is the future for the upcoming generations and so there is a focus on the children. The cry for Skills Development in the community was answered by the Sisters and today there are opportunities to learn sewing, baking, carpentry, bricklaying and food gardening. To the shame of the local authorities it is the Sisters who have repaired boreholes and made water available to the people who live around the DWT Nthathe Centre. It is also the Sisters who distribute large food parcels from nine stations in the community each week.

As Sr Majella says, the Sisters do what they can to develop the community spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, socially and physically.

It is Sr Majella who has ensured that the Mapula Embroidery Project has had a home in the DWT Nthathe Centre for the last 29 years. The Mapula women gather and work in ‘their’ large classroom.

Sr Majella is a great admirer of the Mapula Project and says: ‘I cannot begin to tell you how (the women) appreciate the project..’; ‘It helps them put food on the table; It’s paid for uniforms; It’s helped the children go to school; It’s also a social thing; It gives a reason to get up in the morning and has given value to the women and their work; It’s built confidence…..the women can talk to you now…’

In fact, she says in the soft Irish accent she has not lost over all this time:

‘It’s a miracle how the women have developed themselves…’

Clearly Sr Majella and her Sisters are a rock and source of continued support in the community and that is why the Mapula Production Board have shown their gratitude to Sr Majella by commissioning this embroidery artwork.

Reflecting on the gift, Sr Majella said: ‘the Mapula ladies have done tremendous work. I show everyone who comes to the convent. I’m going to frame the cloth. There is a lot of talent amongst the women. Their work is so beautiful.’

She too is a beautiful creation forged by a life of service.

By Jose Vermeij|October 7th, 2020