Patience and perseverance: Qaqamba (Angel) Cuba pays it forward

Since its inception in 1935, St. Joseph’s has witnessed a multitude of remarkable healing journeys, each contributing to its legacy of positive impact. Qaqamba Cuba is currently completing her master’s degree in law at the University of the Western Cape and served as a fine example of the perseverance of the human spirit. For Qaqamba, paying it forward despite setbacks is her biggest ‘why’ in life.

The 24-year-old radio presenter was born with congenital scoliosis, a spinal deformity caused by vertebrae that are not properly formed. In 2005 while still a child, doctors referred her to Groote Schuur Hospital to explore much-needed spinal surgery. The decision also meant a permanent move from her hometown town Tsomo, a small village in the Eastern Cape, to live with her aunt in Khayelitsha. This relocation would give her access to regular check-ups and monitoring of her progress and complications.  

A further setback followed when Qaqamba learned of her mother’s passing in May 2008 and visited Tsomo to attend the funeral. Soon afterwards her condition worsened. She needed an urgent tracheostomy procedure to help air and oxygen reach the lungs by creating a tube opening from outside the neck and allowing her to breathe with the help of a ventilator.

The operation took quite a toll on her and more importantly, she required specialised, round-the-clock care offered at St. Joseph’s that most South Africans do not have access to.

Qaqamba shares, “when I was told I needed to stay at St. Joseph’s, it was a struggle for me. But it was nice because, I didn’t have to deal with the bullying I faced in Khayelitsha.  More importantly having electricity for the ventilating machine was important for my well-being.  Electricity was not available in my aunt’s shack in Khayelitsha. Qaqamba found it very easy to adjust and formed new, lifelong friendships with fellow young patients.”  

‘What I also liked about my stay at St. Joseph’s was that there were a lot of people who cared about us, the sisters were very strict but that taught us to be disciplined’ says Qaqamba. The community of sisters, staff, and volunteers at St. Joseph’s helped form a new kind of support system that helped push Qaqamba to complete matric and tackle a degree in law. ‘I decided to study law because I wanted to help people, disabled people still struggle with housing and wheelchairs without knowing their rights, said Qaqamba.

Qaqamba’s intense resilience and devotion to uplift disabled youth has shown in different ways throughout her life and education. She hosted her own show, Qaqamba Inspiration Corner, at RX Radio and serves on the board for RX Radio.  She continues to take part in active fundraising drives such as the Cape Town Cycle Tour and the Sanlam Marathon.

Qaqamba believes that more public education is needed to raise awareness of the vast spectrum of disabilities. “Accessibility is still an issue,” she sighs. “There are still too many places with no ramps.” In this age of growing awareness, society needs to work a lot harder to understand the experience of special needs and disabled kids. Listening to Qaqamba would be a good start. Thanks to the restorative and rehabilitative care she received at St. Joseph’s, this fragile child has grown into an exceptional young woman who can lead us where we need to go.

"I decided to study law because I wanted to help people, disabled people still struggle with housing and wheelchairs without knowing their rights"