A life dedicated to working with disabled

Vivienne van der Merwe was honoured for her work. From left, are Vincent Daniels, Cape Town Society for the Blind; Cleone Jordan, Institute for the Promotion of Disabled Manpower; Hilary Lane, Afrinead; Viviene van der Merwe; Sandra Ambrose, Disabled Children Action Group; and Bridgette van der Merwe, the former director of the Cape Town Association for the Physically Disabled.

Organisations helping Cape Town’s disabled people have paid tribute to Pinelands resident Vivienne van der Merwe, who has retired from the Western Cape Network on Disability at the age of 80.

Ms Van der Merwe spent 20 years with the network, and before that she worked for the Oasis Association – also for 20 years.

Many of those who honoured her in Salt River last Friday, spoke about the important role she had played for the disabled.

Vincent Daniels, from the Cape Town Society for the Blind, said Ms Van der Merwe’s work had a lot to do with her son, Jacque van der Merwe, 49, who has an intellectual disability.

Ms Van der Merwe approached Oasis when Jacque was 4, and the association – which was founded in 1952 as a school for children with intellectual disabilities – helped to improve his condition by the time he was in his 20s.

Ms Van der Merwe then joined Oasis’s staff in 1978 as transport director, which saw her teaching disabled people how to use public transport.

After retiring from Oasis at the age of 60, she joined the Western Cape Network on Disability – an umbrella body for several organisations, including the Cape Town Society for the Blind, Cape Mental Health, and the Institute for the Promotion of Disabled Manpower.

Apart from being very good at taking minutes, she helped the disabled with transport-related challenges and was very vocal about the need to build homes for disabled people, who could be left in vulnerable circumstances once their parents died.

“Vivienne had made a significant contribution to this sector due to the continuity of her service and her passion, which has been amazing after all the years,” said Tessa Wood, from the Western Cape Forum for Intellectual Disability.

Sandra Ambrose, from the Disabled Children’s Action Group, said Ms Van der Merwe was a woman of integrity and took time to get to know people.

Cleone Jordan, from the Institute for the Promotion of Disabled Manpower, described her as “very welcoming, very engaging in her approach”.

Mr Daniels, who has had a close working relationship with Ms Van der Merwe, said the network had started on the back of a lot of hard work and she had “always been the person to keep the bits and pieces together”.

Ms Van der Merwe, who is an honorary vice-president of the Oasis Association, said she planned to catch up on her reading during her retirement.

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