Unsung Heroes Award to be presented to 101-year-old Sowetan

Mrs Nomalizo Leah Tutu celebrates her 82nd birthday tomorrow (Wednesday 14 October 2015) with a tea party in Cape Town, where she will present the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation’s inaugural Unsung Heroes Award to Ma Ethel Selloane Ann Leisa.

Mrs Leisa was born in Sekhukhune, and trained as a nurse by Crown Mines in Johannesburg. She worked at Modderbee Mines Hospital and Good Hope Mission in Limpopo before joining the Johannesburg City Council at Orlando Clinic, and later moving to Shanty Clinic, where she retired after 35-years of service.

But Mrs Leisa’s nursing history doesn’t tell half the story…

· She was a mother who did not allow the break-up of her own family by the apartheid government (which deported her husband and forced her to send the children away to be raised by relatives) to dim her compassion for others;

· She was an activist, a member of the Federation of South African Women who worked closely with her cousin, Lillian Ngoyi, helping Ngoyi when she was hiding from police, and looking after her children when she was arrested – a not irregular occurrence;

· She was a Warden at St Augustine’s Church in Soweto (where she first met the young Desmond and Nomalizo Tutu), and has remained active in her church throughout her life;

· She was involved in the birth of the African Self Help Creches in the 1960s, serving as chairperson of Khanyile Creche in Mzimhlope for 25 years, raising funds and distributing second-hand clothes to the needy; and

· She ran an organisation called Palesa, where rural and urban women were taught to make a living through sewing.

In a letter informing Mrs Leisa that she was to be awarded the inaugural Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation Unsung Heroes Award, Executive Director of the Foundation, the Reverend Canon Mpho Tutu said the award recognised individuals who, in their ‘ordinary lives’, are doing voluntary work, providing extraordinary service and improving our community at large.

“Your daily work was not limited to your profession as a nurse, but you expanded your efforts in serving your church by assisting the Rectors. If not cleaning the church yourself, you were coordinating others in doing so. From wiping the floors to washing thelinen, a humble, outstanding women. You took care of the elders, visiting them regularly and, like Jesus did for His disciples, washed their feet and clipped their toe nails,” the Reverend Canon Tutu said.

The birthday celebration and Unsung Heroes 2015 award ceremony take place at De Grendel Restaurant, Plattekloof Road, Panorama.

The programme will start promptly at 2pm.

Media are welcome to cover the event.