Magdeline “Maggie” Malgas can be found every Tuesday and Thursday serving soup to more than 50 children outside her home in Westlake.
She’s been doing it, she says, since last year’s June holidays.
“I’ve been in Westlake for about 11 years, and people would always come knocking on my door, asking if I have anything for them to eat, they’re hungry, especially children. So, last year, I opened my cupboard, took out the little bit of vegetables that I have and starting giving out soup here outside my house. My kids would call the other kids and tell them to come eat.”
Maggie, 33, says she knows what it’s like to be hungry and poor. She grew up in the Karoo, the daughter of a farm worker, and moved to Constantia, when she was just 11, to work alongside her father in the vineyards.
“I stopped school when I was in Grade 7 to work on the farms with my dad full time. He was a winemaker. I did that too. I’ve also worked in the cellars. After that, I worked in restaurants as a cleaner, any jobs that I could find to survive I took them. I always knew that it wasn’t my passion – I love kids
and I love cooking and baking,
but I had to make things work to survive.”
However, Maggie had to stop working in 2005 when she was diagnosed with lupus, an
autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the tissues and organs. Inflammation caused by lupus can affect the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs.
“It was like I was a child for the second time,” says Maggie, describing the onset of the illness.
“It started with a pain in my left knee, then I couldn’t do anything. I had to go back to sleeping with my mother. My mom and my eldest son had to take care of me. She had to wash me, feed me, even when I wanted to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night I had to wake her up.”
Frustrated with being so dependent on her family and unable to work, Maggie sank into a depression. She was put on antidepressants which she says she only recently came off.
“I didn’t even know what this lupus was, but after it was explained to me I started to get it. For five years, I wasn’t working. The Westlake community was supportive, and even the job that I have today, I was helped by a community mem-
Maggie was standing outside her house one day in 2009 when a friend told her that Reddam House in Constantia was looking for an occupational therapist assistant.
“I applied for the job, and I went to the interview, but I really didn’t think I was going to get it, especially because of the lupus.”
But Maggie’s previous experience as a cook and cleaner at a Westlake nursery, Little Squirrels, worked in her favour, and she got the job. She has been working with children since.
“I love my job. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I get off work at 1.30pm and come home to serve soup for the children coming back from school. I make it the night before. I just take any extra vegetables and things from my cupboard and make it. With nothing, I always make something.”
Maggie’s lupus has become more manageable as she takes medication to control it. She has found some sponsors who donate meat and other goods to add to her bi-weekly soup serving.
Maggie is a true ‘‘imbokodo”, or rock, in her community, testament to the indomitable spirit and strength of South Africa’s women.