The packed Mmanotshe Moduane High School hall in Hebron resembled Phalatse’s bravado and never-say-die attitude as attendees sang, ululated and danced to a life well lived.
Ontlametse was a well-known motivational speaker who suffered from progeria, a genetic disorder which causes rapid ageing.
Despite her disease, her larger-than-life personality preceded her so much that celebrities, organisations and government officials were enriched by her attitude.
Comedian Thapelo “Tips” Seemise served as programme director and kept things light joking throughout the service.
“Don’t come here with your long and sad faces and ruin your make-up. This is not the place or the time. We are here to celebrate the life of a young girl who enjoyed life,” said the comic.
Doctors did not think Ontlametse would live to see her 14th birthday. However, on March 25 she turned 18 after finishing her matric.
Her best friend, Tebogo Gololo, described her a go-getter who was always upbeat. “I sometimes wondered where she sourced all her energy. There was literally never a dull day with Ntlami,” she said.
Gololo spoke of how she always confided in Ontlametse about her problems, to which her friend always jokingly replied: “You think you’ve got problems.”
The teenager died at the Dr George Mukhari Academic hospital last week after experiencing breathing problems. On the day of her passing, she and her mother had gone to town to pick up a tailor-made outfit she intended to wear at President Jacob Zuma’s 75th birthday celebration last Wednesday night. She had been invited as a special guest. Among those who attended the memorial service were South Africa’s only surviving progeria sufferer Beandri Booysen, and her mother, Bea Booysen.
South African Airways chairperson Dudu Myeni and Deputy Social Development Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu were also in attendance. Another joyful moment was when the programme director read one of Ontlametse’s fond sayings: “Beauty is not the appearance of someone, but it is their personality and how they are on the inside as well as their heart.” Dominican Convent School headmaster Graham Howarth described Ontlametse as a witty pupil who was never short of smart answers. The Ontlametse Phalatse Trust’s Tebogo Mothoa said she would be remembered for her courageous spirit and inspirational personality.
“The late Ontlametse did not represent the illness; she was much more than that. She had that inspiration that she gave to young and old people. She must not just be remembered for her disability.”
During his birthday celebration, Zuma presented the Phalatse family with a car. The president spent a day with Ontlametse last month to celebrate her 18th birthday. Ontlametse’s wish was to see her family living in a decent house and owning a car. She will be buried in Hebron tomorrow.
Her mother, Bellone, smiled as tears trickled down her cheeks when she heard how her daughter had impacted on people’s lives.