Living in the fast lane with a disability

Valhalla Arts, Musa Zulu author

Author and director of publishing house Valhalla Arts, Musa Zulu, shares his life story and talks about his new book Mastering the Art of Self-Motivation: Tapping the Inner You

Twenty-three years ago, my life changed irrevocably when I was involved in a car accident that left me paralysed. Since then, I’ve been using the spoken and written word to motivate others, and I’ve just published my fourth book.

I waged a bitter struggle within myself before finding my voice as a writer and motivational speaker, as I tried to come to terms with my changed circumstances. How could I be in a wheelchair when I was so young? At the time of the crash, I was 23 and 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 new 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.

Then, in a flash, my life changed.

On April 20, 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 aside from a loud bang and … darkness. Three days later, I woke up in hospital only for the doctor to tell me I was paralysed from the 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 a disability. When I’d bought my first car in 1994, the aim was to enhance my mobility. Now the accident had left me immobile.

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. While those close to me, including my family, visited me in hospital, I felt isolated, especially from my idea of myself. 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 and readers loved it as they learned 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, entitled Mastering the Art of Self-Motivation: Tapping the Inner You, which is an ode to inspiration – that vital force that will propel us to success, but only if we act on it.

Because of my achievements and 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!

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