By Rev. Mmakgabo G Sepoloane, Contributing Writer
Besides being the leader of his church, the Reverend Bantekile Jacob Sehau does not head any other components in the church. Yet, among most of us clergy in the MM Mokone Memorial Annual Conference of the 19th Episcopal District, he is affectionately referred to as /Modulasetulo/ (Chairman) – a moniker that often leaves many an uninformed observer in shock.
Sehau is thus nicknamed because he is wheelchair-bound following a workplace accident in March 2011 that saw his legs crushed and led to amputation above the knees. But instead of moping about and feeling sorry for himself, Sehau was quick to accept his lot as a person living with a disability and moved on to pursue his call to ministry. That he can be self-deprecating and somewhat immune to friendly jostling is because the 46-year-old does not take himself too seriously and has accepted his life without the use of legs.
It was thus a no-brainer that he be the one we featured in our focus for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and South Africa’s National Disability Rights Awareness Day during the country’s Disability Awareness Month (November 3 to December 3). For 2021, the theme in South Africa was “The Year of Charlotte Manya Maxeke – Create and Realise an Inclusive Society Upholding Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”
The Itinerant Elder and Pastor of Monakato African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in the Capital District, Sehau, is originally from a small village called Hertzogville outside the city of Bloemfontein in the Free State. He currently lives in Tlhabane in the North West Province, where he has been working on different mines, first in construction and currently as an administrator in the engineering and planning department.
I recently met him at his double-story home in Tlhabane, Rustenburg, not too far from the famed tourist spot, Sun City, in the North West Province, to talk to him about his amazing journey of ministry as a person living with a disability. “I live on both floors and have wheelchairs on both floors. So when needed, I just hoist myself up and down the stairs using my very strong arms, and into the waiting wheelchair” he chuckled in response to the inquiry about how he lives in a double-story house given his disability.
Sehau joined the itinerant ministry of the AME Church as a member of the Nkosi Memorial in the Capital District in 2010 and had to be presented to the District Conference in absentia by his pastor Presiding Elder, the Reverend LS Moobi, two months after his accident as he was still recovering from his injuries in THE hospital and later at a rehabilitation centre.
He, however, considers himself blessed that he was admitted into the spinal unit at the rehabilitation centre where most of the patients were not able to move at will and that he was able to fully sit up. “I realised that my issues were not so bad, that it could have been worse. I resolved to make the best of my situation; I refused to be surrounded by negativity”.
He remembered saying words that he believes helped him accept never being able to walk again as he felt the pain coursing through his legs just after the accident: “Bantekile Jacob Sehau, you are going to be on a wheelchair for the rest of your life.” These words became a mantra throughout his recovery journey and motivated him to adjust to this new life.
On being discharged from the hospital, his next step was to ensure mobility and independence. He bought his first car, fitted with suitable hand controls and instructions on operating the controls Sehau drove the car off the shop floor and never looked back. He proceeded to RR Wright Theological Seminary to continue with his studies.
His first ordination as Itinerant Deacon was at the Annual Conference, hosted by the Charles Rathogwa Ndou Memorial AME Church in the Vhembe District in October 2014. I remember how everyone was in awe of how he dived to get himself prostrate on the floor to “take thou authority” during the ordination worship service as presided by the then Bishop of the 19th District, the Rt Rev. Paul M Kawimbe. There seemed to be no dry eye in the house at the time as he was helped back into his wheelchair as The Reverend BJ Sehau. Bishop Kawimbe appointed him to his first station in Lephalale, at least 300 km from his home in Tlhabane. Sehau would travel the route every weekend and whenever necessary for worship, pastoral care, and all District and Annual Conference meetings when required.
His achievements at the station and community include, among others, being part of the interdenominational pastors’ team in the area. Because of that membership, many forum and church leaders invited him to preach and speak at different forums and churches in the community. His presence led to many churches in the area creating suitable accommodation for people with disabilities, such as ramps for wheelchairs.
Sehau recounts the strengthened men’s ministry through the Sons of Allen, which saw “men talking men problems. This strengthening attracted fathers in the community and the ministry and contributed to the growth in the number of men in the church.” He managed, as well, to raise funds and source donations for building material to construct a new church building with modern fittings.
His sense of humour and candid outlook on living with the disability has also become a lesson for many who interact with him to the point where one stops focusing on the wheelchair but on him as a person, pastor, and friend.
Modulasetulo believes he still has much to give, and that includes being the source of encouragement for people who need that one little push to face another day because it really could have been worse.