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Honorary doctorate for ‘Mother Teresa of Alex’

- Wits University

Wits University bestowed an honorary doctorate on Marjorie Manganye for her selfless, lifelong dedication and service to the ill, frail and elderly.

Manganye, regarded as the ‘Mother Teresa of Alexandra’ for her charitable work and impact on the lives of people in Alexandra township, was honoured on 6 December 2017 at the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment graduation ceremony.

Delivering the keynote address at the ceremony, Manganye, 86, said she is grateful for her health, which has enabled her to follow her passion – giving a helping hand to those in need.

“For me, it is a miracle that I can still walk around. People that I had taught at Witkoppen School are finished, but thanks God I am standing here in front of you. My journey has been long and is still a mystery to this day – as God unveils it to me every day of my life,” said Manganye.

‘Mama Marj’, as she is affectionately known, is a firm believer in hard work, discipline and planning. She dedicated four decades of her life to the people of Alexandra.

“If you want to achieve your goals and your dreams, you need to work very hard – wholeheartedly. I have devoted most of my life to the plight of the needy, the elderly, neglected people in Alexandra, from quite a young age.”

Manganye is the CEO and founder of ltlhokomoleng Home for the Aged in Alexandra, which cares for over 700 elderly people. She is still actively involved in the home, which employs 64 people.

“I’m at 86, still working, waking up in the morning and getting to work. This you cannot do on your own. You do it through the love and strength you get from people – from your family, from people who see what you do.”

Her passion and love for what she does is what drives and motivates her. “If you have a passion for what you do, everything else will follow through. What takes others a week to do, will take you a few hours to complete, because your mind, heart and soul are in it,” she says.

Manganye emphasized to graduands the essence of discipline and time management and urged them to fearlessly pursue their dreams.

“Being late at work or being late in what you are doing gives other people a very bad impression and you yourself feel guilty. To all those who are graduating today, this is just the beginning. There are so many challenges that you will have to face in your life and these challenges are unknown now, but you will meet these challenges. Do your best. Whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly with all the love.” 

“One thing that I have learnt and that I can advise you is to push through fear.  Fear of what others will think of you, fear of failure, fear of not knowing what is next. But always remember that on the other side of fear there is love and finding out what you are meant for. Don’t fear, push.”


Marjorie Manganye was born in 1931, in the 'Western Native Township', near Johannesburg, grew up in the then farm area of Witkoppen and ended up in Alexandra in the 1950's, due to apartheid South Africa’s policy of forced removals of black people. While her education has been humble, "Mama Marj", as she is affectionately known, has made an extraordinary impact on the people of Alexandra, who commonly refer to her as the 'Mother Theresa of Alex'.

Believing all her life that she had a calling to help people, Mama Marj ventured into various fields looking for the direction of this calling, before finally settling her focus on the elderly. Initially she believed that being a nun was right for her, having been schooled by Catholic 'sisters' for most of her schooling, but Marjorie's parents would not allow this. She moved with them to Witkoppen where there was a farm school made of mud bricks, St. Justins. At only 18, Marjorie became their youngest teacher, in spite of not having a teacher's qualification. Nonetheless, Marjorie did not feel that this was the right field for her.

Once Marjorie was in Alexandra, she again worked with children, though older, joining the Thabisong Youth Club in 1965, already a married lady. Some of the Elders noticed her hands-on approach as she organised activities for the youth. They asked her to relieve a social worker who worked at the Alexandra University Clinic nearby, in a Unit called the Alexandra Anti-TB Association, for a month; again with no qualifications. Mama Marj's reputation for being involved was growing and she was encouraged to change the schedule she had been given, which she certainly did! She made such an impact on the patients she was seeing and the programme, that once the social worker returned, Mama Marj was offered a full-time job at the Clinic. From here, she was sent to Botha's Hill TB Settlement in KwaZulu-Natal, where she finally trained as a TB information officer. Health was now firmly established in her life as a key focus.

Marjorie expanded activities for the TB patients under the trees outside the clinic, partially to deter them from going on drinking bouts. She organised sewing classes with a manual machine, cooking classes on a primus stove and an artisanal focus for the men, doing matchstick projects.

At month­end Marjorie realised some of them needed help with getting their disability grants at the relevant offices. She formed them into a Group and arranged for them to get their grants in a Group, due to them being ill and potentially contagious. During one of these visits for the grants, Marjorie witnessed the death of an elderly woman who had been waiting all day for her grant. It was this life¬-changing incident that marked the journey Mama Marj is now on, caring for the infirm and elderly.

Mama Marj resigned from her TB work and turned her focus to what was to become ltlhokomoleng Home for the Aged in 1978. At that stage, it was merely a welfare organisation. In 1988, through Anglo American and Sandton Rotary, land was obtained and Portacamps (modified containers) bought and erected.

In 1991funds were raised to build a permanent Frail Care Centre - named after Mama Marj - and ltlhokomoleng was additionally allowed to also care for disabled people from 1997, even though this goes against the norm.

Mama Marj battles on without secure funding and at a property that is under the 99 year lease system. She obtains a subsidy from the Department of Social Services for 'care' in particular, meaning food, etc., but there is no ongoing funding security.Corporates donate goods from time to time and a number of well-known people provide support and raise the profile of the home, but each month is a struggle and the numbers of the elderly and infirm are growing in Alex.

Increasingly the elderly in Black communities are being abandoned. African culture has given way to a European way of taking care of the elderly and frail. Additionally, Alexandra has always been a magnet for migrants and working class who serve the rich suburb of  Sandton, so a great many residents are and were servants, with no pensions or savings and no way to care for themselves, far from home as they get old. Mama Marj takes them in as best she can, even ignoring racial boundaries. The centre runs projects for budding artists; arts and crafts are sold to raise money.

At the age of 86, Mama Marj still tirelessly devotes all her time to the plight of the poor, the elderly and neglected people in Alexandra, Johannesburg, as she has done for four decades.

'Mama Marj' has won a slew of awards in her lifetime, the prestigious Order of the Baobab as well as; Sandton Rotary Merit Award, 1984; Claude Harris Lean Foundation Award, 1986; Woman of Substance True Love Magazine, 1987; Sowetan Nation Builder of the Year; Finalist, 1988; Best Community Worker, 1991; Mother Theresa of Alexandra Sunday Star, 1992.