Zukiswa Blaai (photo) from Makhaza, Khayelitsha was unemployed and looking for a job when her sister told her about Bergzicht Training and Development and its HWSETA-accredited Health and Frail Care Programme in 2019.

A few years before then, Zukiswa had completed level 2 to 4 of a course in Office Administration at False Bay College. Soon after, she started working as an assistant at the Khayelitsha Magistrates Court for three months before she started looking for a job as an administrator. Without experience, no one was willing to hire her. In 2016, she took a job as a cashier at a fishery until it closed down in 2017, whereafter she found a job through the Expanded Public Works Programme of the City of Cape Town, where she worked for six months.

In 2019, when she found herself without work again, her sister found a Bergzicht Training and Development advert and advised Zukiswa to apply for the iPOWER (Self Empowering) Foundation Programme at the NGO. After completing the entry-level programme, Zukiswa, who had always wanted to study frail care, got the news from Bergzicht Training and Development that she had been selected for their advanced programme in health and frail care.

As part of her studies, she spent 10 weeks as a carer at the retirement village, Huis André van der Walt, to gain practical experience. When she completed her training, and while she was looking for a job, Zukiswa decided to volunteer her services at The Village. Afterwards she signed up to two health care professionals’ agencies, first with Allmed and later with Vencorp Placement, and worked at a number of facilities, including Brigadoon Lodge and Westbeach Mental Health Clinic, as a relief frail carer.

In March, the COVID-19 virus had reached South African shores and soon after, with infections spreading, hospitals were overrun with patients in need of treatment and medical professionals were feeling the pressure. Frail carers formed part of the frontline workers who were fighting to save lives.

“I feared for my life, because I was one of those on the frontline. I honestly don’t know how I am still standing. I didn’t expect that after I finished my studies that I would be dealing with a virus like this. It was very challenging and scary and I have seen many patients die because of this virus, but it is only through the grace of God that I’m still standing here,” she says.

Having witnessed the devastation of the pandemic, Zukiswa is intent on encouraging all South Africans to remain cautious under lockdown level 1, to continue following the guidelines set by the government, and to adhere to hygiene protocols put in place to prevent the spread of the virus.

Since May this year, she has been working as a frail carer at the old age home, Eidelweiss ACVV.

“You know, when you are in a hard place like I was when I was unemployed, you feel that there is nothing for you, but through the support of my siblings, I got up and told myself, I can do this and went to Bergzicht Training and Development to do one of their programmes. I love being a carer, because it allows me to take care of the sick and frail.”

Click here to read the story of Denise Windvogel, her determination to become a frail carer, and her dedication as a frontline worker during the COVID-19 pandemic.