The word resilience means ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties’. It’s a word we’ve heard many times over the past couple of years, and it forms the basis of a wonderful new word recently coined by North Coast mom and grandmother, Lesley van Straaten.
Like most of us, Simbithi-based Lesley had reached what felt like the end of her tether when the second round of flooding hit KZN. The Covid pandemic, lockdown, riots, looting, floods (and then more floods), coupled with personal losses and tragedies over the past two years, began to weigh very heavily on her.
However, just like the rest of us, Lesley picked herself up and carried on ‘soldiering forward’. She dealt with the blows and ‘kept it together’ . . . because that’s what we do. In May, just a week after her father tragically passed away, Lesley (who is a retired primary school teacher), sat down and drew out a timeline of everything that had happened over the past two years.“ I wasn’t just thinking about us as a family, but us as a community. Our domestic worker, who lives in Tongaat, hasn’t had water for months and there is no end in sight.” Then, because it’s something she enjoys doing, Lesley began playing around with words. When the word ‘kwazilience’ popped into her mind, she thought, ‘yes, that’s exactly it’. The word and its description have since gone viral on the Internet.
A KZN girl through-and-through, Lesley grew up and spent much of her life in Umhlanga. She has three children, all of whom are born-and-bred KZNers. She qualified as a teacher and spent 17 years teaching junior primary in La Lucia before taking early retirement when the pandemic hit.
“All the teachers who continued to teach throughout the pandemic are truly some of the most resilient people in the world,” she says, knowingly.
Lesley and her financial advisor husband, Andre, recently relocated to Ballito to be close to their two grandchildren. She remembers the day she thought up the word ‘kwazilience’. “I was feeling incredibly emotional that day. I had recently lost my dad and was thinking, ‘how much more can we all go through’? I had seen something on Facebook where the person said, ‘If I had to go to war, I would want to go with an army of KZNers.’ I loved that.”
When Lesley came up with ‘kwazilience’, a friend asked if she could tweak the description a little and use it on her social media platform. She agreed and it went viral. What she put up was the following: ‘Kwazilience: applies to those who dwell in KZN, South Africa. Almost a numbing; a coping skill we have developed to Covid, lockdowns, rioting, looting and flooding of excessive proportions.’ Before long friends and family who lived around the world were messaging Lesley to tell her that she had gone viral. “I didn’t even know what that meant,” she laughs. The word and its meaning resonated (and still does) with so many people. “The thing is, unless you’ve actually lived what we’ve lived through here in KZN, you don’t really understand it. I think everyone needs to feel understood, supported and connected at this point.”
Since then, Lesley says she’s been approached by a large food company, asking if they could use the term in their corporate teambuilding and she featured on the Harvest Church podcast, where the pastor referred to her as a ‘wordsmith’. “I found that so funny,” she says, “and had a good laugh when I heard it. I just think it’s great that this has left a warm, fuzzy feeling with people.”