African Mama loves 'stinking white 40-year-old druggie' back to life

African Mama loves 'stinking white 40-year-old druggie' back to life

- Love can mean the difference between life and death

- The African ethos of ubuntu is personified in the story of how an elderly black lady showed motherly love to a 'stinking white 40-year-old drug addict'

- The love Martha Nukeria showed Connie van Staden helped him change his life proving that love really can perform miracles

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Recovered drug addict, Connie Van Staden, said the way most people treat the homeless does little to help them find value in themselves. learned how he was touched by the kindness of a stranger who saw beyond the "smelly white drug addict" and extended the embrace of a mother's love.

Martha Nukeria, a street jewellery vendor, is not like the “most people” Van Staden describes and had known.

This warm hearted African woman took one look at Van Staden and saw a person she could love. Instead of being disgusted by him, she freely gave of her warmth, embracing a man who describes himself as having been a “smelly white 40-year-old druggie.”

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Today he says it was this warmth that gave a man who had all but lost himself, the will to beat almost a decade of addiction.

Van Staden called her ‘Mommy Martha’. He said it was she who help him finally changed his life for the better and turn away from heroin.

He explained that with her in his life, he could see there was something better than the drug lines and needles he had been using to survive life on the streets.

“Mommy fed me and she treated me like her own son. She hugged me and loved me. I needed that motherly love and I think every drug user on the streets needs it too,” said Van Staden.

Nukeria would look after his back-pack while he went about his daily ‘business’ of finding and using drugs, even taking his dirty clothes and blankets to her Soshanguve home, to wash them and bring them back.

Van Staden was at the time supporting his drug habit by begging, stealing, working, shoplifting and opportunistic crimes. “I did it all for drugs. We would sit in one long line, with only one or two needles, not thinking about the diseases or consequences. And many times ‘Mommy Martha’ would cry openly saying: ‘Don’t worry, one day things will change my son. You will be a new man.’ Mommy is a very religious woman and she knew the challenges I was facing because we would talk. I told her that I could not do this anymore.”

When he was ready, she helped him to get the help he needed to get off the drugs and work on building a life for himself. Today he has been clean for more than three years and works as the regional human rights and advocacy officer at Step Up Project, a harm reduction advocacy group which helped him get onto the right path.

“We work in the city with drug users and, because many of us are former drug users, these guys relate to us and one by one we help them on the right path, just like Step Up did for me,” he says.

“The real hero is Mommy Martha as she was the only one who stood by [us] and her unconditional love saved us all,” explained Van Staden.

The Step Up project is the provides multi-site HIV prevention services to people who use drugs in South Africa as well as supportive services to assist in harm prevention in communities.

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