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Getting to know our ER24 “divas”

Elizabeth Ngqongwa and Nomaphelo Lukubane are dynamic and passionate about saving lives, which earned them the epithet of “divas” of their branch. Always in search of new ways to serve their community, they’re the future-focused face of emergency medical services (EMS) in South Africa.

“I didn’t think that one day I’d work as a paramedic,” says Elizabeth Ngqongwa, who’s based at ER24 Milnerton. Now she couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Ngqongwa was in Grade 12 when she was inspired by her sister-in-law, who was doing a paramedic course. She decided to apply and completed various levels of training. Having always been a family caregiver, Ngqongwa found it was a natural fit. “I was the oldest in the family and was looking after my sisters and brothers after my mom passed away,” she recalls. Nowadays, she’s also proud that her community knows to come to her with any medical emergency.

After many years at Medical Emergency Transportation and Rescue Operations (METRO), Ngqongwa began working for ER24 in 2018. She loves being part of the team. “Everything that needs to be there is there. Working conditions are good, and all the calls are a priority,” she says. “Things with my colleagues are also good; there are no barriers between us. I don’t see myself as a black person when I am among them. We are brothers and sisters.”

While Ngqongwa is often torn apart by some of the terrible things she sees on the job, especially when children are involved, being able to save a soul eases the heartache. “The best part of my job is if I got there, helped a person, and I see the person is healing,” she says. She prides herself on following up on her cases. While she used to return to her patients’ homes after a few weeks, she now phones their families to track their progress.

Ngqongwa’s bubbly personality and sense of humour lighten the mood for her patients and colleagues. “I talk too much,” she laughs. “For example, Afrikaans is not my language, but I know a few words, so if the patient is talking Afrikaans, I take my chances and we laugh! I know what I’m doing, and I love my job. Whatever I’m doing, I do it with my whole heart.”

ER24’s Nomaphelo Lukubane is also passionate about her job. After working in retail for five years, she decided to do a basic life-support course. “I always had a big heart for helping people,” she says. “I was trained to help people when I was still young – I used to help care for my siblings. Growing up in the location, there was also a lot of crime. My brother died after being stabbed. You want to help, and you don’t know how to do it. If you have the knowledge, you can try to save that life. It’s been my calling.”

In 2015, she joined ER24’s Events Department. She later worked with ER24 on Robben Island. Although she was happy to use her skills, Lukubane longed to be on the frontlines. While she had her licence, her lack of driving experience held her back. 

“Then I pushed, I told myself I need to drive now,” she recalls. So, she did lessons, passed ER24’s driving evaluation, and became a permanent ambulance staff member. “It was the happiest day of my life,” she recalls. “I even cried.” When she fell pregnant after the COVID-19 pandemic struck, she fought to stay working in the ambulance services.

During the pandemic, she’s struggled with the fact that she can’t comfort patients and their families with a simple hug. Yet, she’s thrilled to be back at work after her maternity leave. “I love to help people,” she says. “I am happy to be back at work. I’m just hoping and praying that this pandemic will cool down so we can give our patients the support that we’ve always given them.”