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​​Faith in Orange Farm
​​​Pastor Thabile Mnisi-MsibiPastor Mnisi-Msibi has devoted her life to helping others, but her heart is in Orange Farm.

I DO the work, God does the payment. I don't have any money, but I have prayers - these two sentences sum up Pastor Thabile Mnisi-Msibi, a person of great faith.

And, as is so often the case with people who work tirelessly for the welfare of others, she and her staff don't get paid for what they do.

Mnisi-Msibi, known as Pastor T by the community, is a friendly, affectionate person, based in Extension 2 of Orange Farm, 40 kilometres south of the city. Here, Mission Society Care Ekuthuleni Multipurpose Villa is her brainchild.

She travels 80 kilometres every day on a round trip, from her home in the northern suburbs, to care for over 400 people - the HIV-infected, the aged, the disabled, orphans - in Orange Farm.


Pastor T opened the centre in January, in a humble set of buildings clinging to a small hill overlooking kilometres of ramshackle houses and shacks in the township. Orange Farm is probably one of the poorest townships in the province, a vast encampment of dusty roads and few trees, housing about 350 000 people.

She originally set up the project in 1998. The new R2-million centre was sponsored by the Department of Public Works and several private sponsors, on land originally housing a school, donated by the City.

However, the Mission Society Care concept was started by Mnisi-Msibi in 1983 in Soweto. It shifted its focus to HIV and Aids in 1996.

Mnisi-Msibi shows me into her modest office, which is painted in warm mustard. A small bookcase straddles one corner, filled with files; a plant sits in another corner; and a third corner is taken up with a pile of boxes and posters.

Her desk is small, the concrete floor polished. Her office window overlooks neat vegetable beds, planted with lettuce and spinach.

MS Care centre

The centre is on 26 000 square metres of land, dotted with pretty gardens planted with carnations and alyssum. A row of old classrooms houses a playroom and basic accommodation for homeless people.

A metre-high stack of bricks from the demolition of the school buildings demarcates the site. They have been carefully preserved for future construction, in the form of phases two and three of the project, costing R5,8-million and R6,8-million respectively.

Phase one is complete: a hall, a small clinic, an administration block, a care and counselling facility, a kitchen and several small training rooms.

In the pipeline are a large day-care facility, a multi-purpose sports court, a dining room, a large vegetable garden and nine residential units for orphans, housing 15 youngsters each.

In 2000 Mnisi-Msibi started sourcing funders and now has an impressive array of donors - stretching from Terre des Hommes in Germany and the Baptist Docus Aid in Australia to the national Departments of Social Welfare and Labour, Rand Water, the Gauteng departments of social development and public works, Islamic Relief and Metro Rail, among others.

She has several other Mission Society Care centres in the country: two in Eastern Cape, one in Western Cape, two in North West, one in Free State and five in Gauteng - Naledi in Soweto, Krugersdorp, Roodepoort and Lenasia.

Staff numbers 12 nurses and 33 volunteers. Besides offering counselling and support groups for those infected with and affected by HIV, the centre offers income-generating training, like coffin making, welding, carpentry, dress making and floor polish manufacturing.

On a walkabout around the centre, Pastor T says of the cook, "She cooks very balanced meals." The spotless kitchen only has a two-plate electric stove.

Mnisi-Msibi points to the makeshift tables and benches. "We've made them out of wood that was used in the school, when it was demolished. We waste nothing here."

In the five-bedded clinic she greets a patient, a smiling grandmother curled up under several blankets, a permanent resident. She whispers, "Since she's been here, we've buried four people."

Mnisi-Msibi brings terminally ill people back to the clinic, who she finds during her visits to homes. On these trips she hands out food parcels.

We walk up to the row of classrooms. Seven toddlers are being cared for in the day-care centre, of the 22 orphans usually cared for daily. They have been dropped by relatives for the day.

Next door is another grandmother. She was being physically abused by her relatives, so she now lives permanently at the centre. She sits quietly on a plastic chair at the foot of her bed with a blanket wrapped around her knees, listening to the radio. A curtain separates her corner from the rest of the room.

Mnisi-Msibi plans to build brick partitions to create separate rooms in the almost window-less bare shells.

Qualifications and awards

Originally a nursing sister, Mnisi-Msibi says she "received Christ as my saviour" in 1968 but only started "serving the Lord" full time in 1999, when she was ordained as a pastor after attending bible college.

One of the things that clearly gives her a lot of joy is a Sunday night slot on Rainbow FM 90.7, a 24-hour Christian community radio station. She counsels and preaches to listeners from 10pm to midnight on her Restoration Programme, and where she feels a particular listener needs a longer session, she plays music over the air while she talks to them.

Unusually for radio hosts, Pastor T gives out her cellphone number, and is amazed at the number of callers.

Persuading donors to sponsor her is no problem. Classic FM paid for her training as a radio producer and presenter. She was subsequently asked to join the board of the station, a position she has held for the past seven years.

But Mnisi-Msibi wears many other hats: counselling at the Modderbee Prison on the East Rand; on the board of two hospitals - Helen Joseph and Coronation; lecturing on HIV and motivation. She has written several books and she holds three services a day at the centre.

All this work has not gone unrecognised. Mnisi-Msibi has a string of awards, including the 2001 Community Builder of the Year, the 2002 Franklin Covey winner of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and the 2001 Education Africa Presidential and Premier Education Award.

She was the African representative to the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, presenting a paper on the impact of HIV/Aids. In 2001 she represented South Africa in the first regional home-based care conference at SADC in Botswana.

How does one person manage all this? "I am a good planner, a good strategist," she says with a broad smile. Mnisi-Msibi explains that she forces counsellors to work by delegating. "You must empower people around you because you rely on them to help others."

Pastor T is meticulous about liaising with the community. "I do a needs analysis with the community, involving them in the process."

During the planning of the Mission Society Care centre in Orange Farm, Mnisi-Msibi was struck by how much the community fought among themselves. She told them, "I just want peace, and I want you to come up with a name."

They suggested the name Ekuthuleni, meaning "place of peace".

Family

Mnisi-Msibi was born in Soweto 51 years ago and has two daughters - the 33-year-old is a human resources manager; the 24-year-old is a lawyer, shortly on her way to study at Oxford University.

But she has many more children. "I've got a million - I'm a mother without family planning," she says, to great laughter.

Both her daughters won scholarships to study, and have achieved excellent results. "God is blessing them to get straight As and cum laude degrees."

Mnisi-Msibi met her husband, Bishop Mavula Msibi, on a trip to the United States, where he was in exile. He is the bishop of Restoration Fellowship International and travels overseas and locally lecturing as part of his duties. "We believe in helping people," he says.

What keeps her going amid so much poverty and despair, working on seemingly insurmountable problems? "It's the bubbling faces of the children, it's fulfilment, it's family support. My heart is in Orange Farm."
​​Faith in Orange Farm