SHE felt she was finally digging herself out of the hole she’d plunged into after losing her job as a news anchor on the now-defunct ANN7 TV channel.
There had been some tough months, Palesa Madisakwane admits, and the bank had repossessed her Mercedes-Benz when she’d missed her R12 000 instalment three months in a row.
So when the TV veteran landed a job as a producer on Zodwa Wabantu’s new reality show, she was relieved.
“That gig came just in time,” Palesa (42) tells DRUM. “I was going deeper and deeper into debt.”
With her first pay cheque she paid some essential bills and bought a Toyota Etios for R60 000. “On the same day I picked it up, this had to happen.”
Palesa is, of course, referring to the crash that nearly claimed her life and that of her nine-year-old daughter, Zoe Mohumi. The pair were on their way home from attending Palesa’s niece’s traditional wedding in the Vaal, Gauteng.
On Witkoppen Road she stopped at a red traffic light, singing along to Pastor Benjamin Dube’s latest album, Victorious in His Presence.
As the traffic light turned green and she prepared to take off, she was blinded by bright lights and heard a deafening bang. “I saw smoke coming out of the car and the airbags had popped. The first thing I did was to check if Zoe was okay,” she says.
The girl had been safely strapped into the back seat, even though she’d asked her mother a few minutes before the crash if she could sit up front with her.
“Imagine what would have happened if I’d let her,” Palesa says.
Her daughter’s safety was the only thing on her mind when she saw the smoke. “I wanted to go to the back seat and grab Zoe, but I couldn’t open my door. I jumped into the back to try to open the other door so I could get her out.”
But all the doors were jammed. “I panicked and tried to hit and kick the windows and the doors, but we were trapped.”
FRANTIC with fear, Palesa screamed for help. “I was blinded by the blood running down my face. When I tried to wipe the blood away, I could see more smoke coming from the bonnet. The smell of petrol was overpowering. I thought my daughter and I were going to burn to ashes.”
All she could do was scream for help. “I couldn’t even think of saying my last prayer or asking God to help us get out of that situation – I just wanted my Zoe to be safe.”
Palesa lost consciousness for a few minutes and was woken up by a panicked couple. Paramedics were on the scene by that stage and managed to get mom and daughter out by wrenching open the boot of the car.
The couple then asked Palesa for contact details so they could inform her family. “Those people were guardian angels,” Palesa says. “I remembered my ex-husband Jakes Mocuminyane’s number and he rushed to the scene.”
By then the crash scene was crawling with people. “I can’t remember all the people who helped me, but everyone was so kind. They recognised who I was and
covered Zoe with a blanket, wiping the blood from her forehead and keeping her warm.”
A bystander told Palesa she’d been hit by an alleged drunk driver who tried to flee the scene after his car landed up on its roof. “But he couldn’t run far because he was too drunk,” she says. “He could barely walk, he was so out of it.”
The man, who was uninjured, was arrested by police at the scene while paramedics took Palesa and Zoe to Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. “When we got there we were told to go to Helen Joseph Hospital because they didn’t have a ward for children. The paramedics were kind enough to take us there, where my forehead was stitched before we were sent home,” she says.
Palesa is still bruised from the crash and has a long scar on her forehead after receiving 12 stitches. She’s on painkillers and has yet to go for counselling to cope with the trauma, she says. Her daughter also had a cut on her forehead and received eight stitches. But she holds no grudges against the driver of the other car.
“I don’t know what that guy was going through. A lot of people are depressed and stressed and don’t know how to channel their problems,” she says. “I’m just grateful my daughter and I are safe.”
The accident has strengthened her faith, the former Gospel Gold host says. “I believe God was giving me a sign. I don’t know what it is, but my faith was strengthened. God gave me a second chance to live life again.”
IN THE wake of the crash, Palesa has had to rely on her children’s fathers for support. Jakes, the father of her kids Thato (14) and Zoe, is always willing to help where he can. “He is an amazing man,” she says. “Even though we’re not together he still makes sure he provides for his children.”
Somizi Mhlongo, the father of her eldest daughter, Bahumi (24), also came to her aid when she was unemployed.
“He told me I need to work for the money by featuring on season four of his reality show, Living the Dream with Somizi, and I was like, ‘Hell yeah’.”
Following her head-on collision Somizi took Palesa to his skin doctor, Dr Nicole Kanaris. “She gave me a few injections for my skin to remain firm,” says Palesa, whose visit will feature on Somizi’s show.
The former couple go way back. “I’ve known Somizi since I was a teen. I don’t even call him Somizi, I call him by his other name, Buyani.
“We respect each other. We speak when we must discuss something related to Bahumi, but he has a life and is getting married. We’re truly good friends and he’s a great dad. He’s my boy.”
As grateful as she is for his help, Palesa points out it wasn’t Somizi who paid for the reconstructive surgery she had following the crash. She says her niece’s in-laws paid for the operation, which caused a storm on social media. Why didn’t an actress with her experience have medical aid, people wondered?
“I lost my job and my car – medical aid was the last of my worries,” Palesa says. “I had to put food on the table for my kids. I couldn’t afford medical aid. Being a celebrity doesn’t mean money just comes to me. I’m single now,” she adds. “It’s not like when I was married or dating and I could call my man to ask for money. I’m also teaching my children independence by working for their assets.”
Zoe is back at school now and is recovering from the crash. “She’s a strong girl, she is more worried about me,” says Palesa, who will return to work on Zodwa’s TV show as soon as she’s feeling better.
“I will continue to rise above all challenges – just as I always have.”