From Zim to the Cape, boy tells of journey

If anyone would like to assist The Adonis Musati Project in any way with their support of these vulnerable refugee children, please email [email protected] or phone Barbara on 021 448 3348. Your help will be appreciated.


By Francis Hweshe

He is only 15 years old, but earlier this year Tapiwa Chiwanda embarked on a gruelling four-day journey from his home in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe, to Cape Town.

Here, he hoped to start a new life and find a way to support his younger sister - their parents are both dead - but instead Tapiwa ended up living under a bridge, hungry and cold.

His guardian angel came in the form of local NGO the Adonis Musati Project, which picked him up from under the Foreshore bridge, giving Tapiwa temporary shelter, food and clothing.

The NGO, named after a Zimbabwean refugee who died of hunger in the city two years ago, suggests that, on average, three unaccompanied children arrive in Cape Town every week from Zimbabwe.

Co-founder Terry Hodson said they were looking after 15 youngsters, whom they would not "abandon until they are independent".

Hodson said the youngsters were being provided with accommodation, food, blankets and school opportunities, among other things.

"They are vulnerable and they are still streaming in from the border. We need money to do more," she said.

Tapiwa says that he left home in Zimbabwe on May 5 with R500, arriving here four days later.

He spent the next three weeks living under the bridge with other foreign nationals, before the NGO found him.

He tells of how he hitched lifts with long-haul trucks from his home to the border town of Beit Bridge in Zimbabwe. In South Africa, he bribed police and anyone else he needed to get to Joburg, and finally to Cape Town.

"I left my 8-year-old sister Shelly behind, and I really miss her. But we had no money to continue with school.

"I sold vegetables on the market to buy food for us, but business was going down so I had to leave."

During a brief stop in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, the boy said he did a job that earned him a once-off R150. He was fed by a church there, then sold his jacket for money for a train ticket to Joburg.

But fellow Zimbabweans there advised him to come to Cape Town to look for work.

"I cannot find a job because they say I'm under-age. If I get a second chance, I would love to go back to school, but I need to go back home to my sister with groceries," he said.

Their mother died in 2006, three years after his father. And their elder brother left for Mozambique last year and did not return.

"Every time I eat, I wonder what my sister would have eaten for the day. I need to go back home and start a business," a crying Tapiwa said.

He left her in the care of neighbours, he added.

Another youngster, Simbarashe Matake, 17, who still lives under the bridge but is set to get accommodation from the NGO, said he left Zimbabwe "because of hunger".

Matake, from a rural village in Masvingo province, said his mother was dead and his father had cancer, and cannot walk.

Before he left, he and his family of five would share "a cup of rice" a day in order to survive, but often went days without food.

"I dropped out of school because there were no teachers. We would spend three months without schooling and I had no money for private lessons," said Matake.

He left home on foot last August with 12 others, crossing the Limpopo River to enter South Africa. Only six made it, the others giving up and returning home.

The boy also reported having to bribe police to get to Joburg, where he stayed at the Central Methodist Church for five months before leaving for Cape Town at the beginning of May.

Matake said his dream was to become an engineer, but that he hoped meanwhile to train as a waiter to support his father back home.