Twenty-three years ago my life changed irrevocably when I was involved in a car accident that left me paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. Since then I’ve been using the spoken and written word to motivate others, and I’ve just published my fourth book.
Before finding my voice as a writer and motivational speaker, I waged a bitter struggle within myself as I tried to come to terms with my changed circumstances. How could I be in a wheelchair when I was so young, when I had had the world on a string? At the time of the car crash, I was 23 – at the height of my youthful energies.
Before the accident, I’d worked as a junior lecturer of sociology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Life buzzed with excitement and possibilities. I was always at the centre of the crowd, mingling easily with friends, all of us optimistic about the future. South Africa had just become a democracy and previously closed doors were opening for those who were young, smart, talented, educated and ambitious.
In 1994, I joined Tongaat Mushrooms in Shongweni, north of Durban, as a Human Resources Officer. Three months later, I was appointed Human Resources Manager. Like a rocket, I was blasting my way towards a directorship, the ultimate position. I was writing the script of my show, of my own life.
Then, in a flash, my life changed.
The date was 20 April 1995. I was driving home from work in the evening. It was raining, so the road was wet. Relaxed, I sang along to my favourite songs on the radio. I don’t remember what happened next. Bang! Blankness.
Three days later, I woke up in hospital only for the doctor to tell me I was paralysed from waist down and would never walk again. Shell-shocked, confused and in denial, I didn’t allow what he told me to sink in. There was no line in my script about suffering any disability. When I’d bought my first car in 1994, the aim was to enhance my mobility. Now the accident had left me immobilised.
Three weeks later, a physiotherapist came into the ward with my new wheelchair. When I saw it, I couldn’t contain the flood of tears. My new fate was real. Dejected, I mused that God could be cruel sometimes.
While those close to me, including my family, visited me in hospital, I felt isolated, especially from my idea of my self. Eventually I was discharged and I had to adjust to a new life and new ways of doing things. Fortunately, I had a loving family and caring friends to lean on.
During those bleak times, a voice inside me kept saying: “Musa, take it one day at a time in order to reach your desired tomorrow!” That’s when words, particularly in the written form, took on new meaning. I had always loved talking, but now I turned to writing to use my life story as an example of hope for other paraplegics, as well as anyone dealing with adversity.
In 2004, I published my memoir The Language of Me (UKZN Press) and readers loved it because they learnt valuable lessons about disability from someone in a wheelchair. Through this book, I wanted to show how disability should not be a barrier to realising one’s dreams of living life in the fast lane, because all it takes to succeed is courage and determination. Meanwhile, I became a sought-after motivational speaker, sharing my message at various companies and educational and community institutions across South Africa. The sun was shining in my dark corner.
Today, I’m back in the saddle. I’m excited about my latest book: Mastering the Art of Self-Motivation: Tapping the Inner You (Valhalla Arts), which is an ode to inspiration, that vital force that will propel us to success – but only if we act on it.
I love words. Beautiful words gift us with inspiring rhythms of love for others. Words encourage me to celebrate and frame my relationships, to find the music and balance in my life. Words are a key ingredient of inspiration.
Because of my achievements and constantly being enveloped by the love of my wife and three beautiful daughters, I believe the wheelchair that I initially dreaded has allowed me to walk tall. I’ve found my purpose in life: to inspire others to live meaningful, results-driven lives. I couldn’t ask for more from my Creator. He had a plan for me all along.
Musa Zulu is a writer, motivational speaker, entrepreneur and Director of Valhalla Arts. His new book is available at all leading bookstores. For more information, visit: valhallaarts.co.za