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Wits honours student inspires graduands

- Kemantha Govender

Successful people fail, they fail many times and they fail quickly, says Doug Anderson, speaker at a Humanities graduation ceremony on 31 March 2016.

Anderson, who received the National Order of the Baobab: Silver, from President Jacob Zuma for his work in promoting the rights of people with disabilities and orphans in 2015, was born with a spinal defect leaving him partially paraplegic from birth.

His address, which received a standing ovation, was filled with personal stories of wisdom and encouragement.

Against the odds

Anderson’s quirky sense of humour came out when he referred to himself as a “two percenter”, the odds given to him of surviving at birth. He told the graduands that he chose to “never be limited by the limitations in the minds of others”.

Doctors also told him that he would not be able to talk or be educated. But not only is Anderson a radio producer and presenter, he is also a journalism honours student at Wits.

Anderson has worked in radio since 2004, cutting his teeth at a community radio station, Radio Today, and in 2007 he joined Radio 2000. He was also a special contributor for television during the last couple of Paralympics. But it was a difficult journey.

Rejection and hope

“You would think that after being head boy, after representing my province and country in sports, after achieving in academia that this would have counted for something in the world, but the reality of the situation for me (at least at the time) it didn’t.

“I studied a number of things at various institutions. I had rejection after rejection trying to get a job,” said Anderson.

At school, he represented his province and country in sports, amassing 39 gold, 16 silver and five bronze medals.  Anderson also excelled in leadership by serving as a head boy in 1996 at the Hope School in Johannesburg.

He said people with disabilities are often restricted to working in callcentres or as switchboard operators. Anderson said that despite being told his disability is a hindrance to employment, he persevered until he found something that he loved.


Anderson is also a qualified reflexologist, and also started various businesses during his career.

He is passionate about making a difference in the world, particularly when it comes to people with disabilities. Anderson has won numerous awards for his work with the disabled. He received the Inseta Disability Champion award two years running, the Disability International Community Role Model award, and the Hamlet Presidents Award for work in the field of intellectual disability. 

“You can’t always control what happens to us but you can control the way you react to what happens to us. Learn to embrace change or it will embrace you. The trick to success is to get up, dress up, show up and never give up,” said Anderson.

Anderson has had 42 surgeries in 38 years.  He says the biggest lesson he learnt, came with operation number 40 in 2013. 

“A simple 40 minute procedure that went horribly wrong and left me in ICU for a month, sedated and ventilated for 10 days with two super bugs.  Nearly dying, gives you a different appreciation of life.  I say live more, love more, do more, be more and (the) sincerity in your intentions determine success in your life,” he said.