Desperate dreams of becoming a stowaway

By Quinton Mtyala Time of article published Nov 16, 2016

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UNDERNEATH the Nelson Mandela flyover on the Foreshore, a group of young men from Tanzania spend their days eking out a living, hopeful that one day they can board a vessel in Cape Town Harbour as stowaways.

Jafari Omari Pazi, 26, has been living in Cape Town for the past four years in the 
shadows, without any legal status to be in South Africa.

“I don’t have papers (immigration documentation), I tried to get (refugee) papers but I could not get them because they told me (at Home Affairs) that Tanzania is not at war,” says Pazi.

He was “done” with school at 18 years old but won’t say whether he finished high school.

While Pazi tells his story, a group of his compatriots cook a meal of pap in an old 25-litre metal paint drum, suspicious of the attention from the media.

Pazi says he has lost touch with his family back in Tanzania, having last spoken to his siblings over a year ago after he lost their phone numbers.

To make money, “stowaways” help to dismantle and push the stalls of traders on the Grand Parade when their trading day ends.

This usually earns them around R20 for each job.

“We use that money to buy food, and later on at night we head to the harbour hoping to get on to a ship. When can’t get one, we come back and sleep,” says Pazi.

He admits that getting on to a ship is difficult, but remains hopeful that one day he will manage to leave Cape Town.

“I don’t know where I will end up, I don’t have a future if I’m going to stay here… I don’t have money or a job for land, or a place to stay (here),” says Pazi.

On the Paarden Island side of Woodstock, in an area littered with graffiti, which resembles something out of a dystopian movie, Abu Kibaka, 35, stands against a wall which provides shade against a searing sun on this Wednesday while his fellow Tanzanians mill around the bridge which crosses the railway line.

The area where the Tanzanians congregate also serves as an open-air drug market, with users crossing the railway line from the Woodstock side to buy their fix.

Kibaka has been in South Africa for three years, and unlike most of Africa’s migrants who take a perilous journey through the Sahara, and then on to the Mediterranean in the hope that they 
land on Europe’s shores, he says he has been patiently waiting for a ship to take him to a promised land.

“In Europe I want to get refugee status,” says Kibaka.

He’s from Malindi, in Zanzibar, his father died when he was young and he got no support from anyone to complete his schooling.

He left Zanzibar aboard a container ship, and says once it came close to docking he swam ashore.

“After five days on the ship, 
I came out from hiding, and they dropped me off here in Cape Town. I’m a seaman, so I swam.

“I came to this country (South Africa) to improve (my situation). Here in Cape Town there are also more ships, maybe I can get on to a ship to go to Europe so I can get papers to become a refugee.”

According to City of Cape Town officials, there’s very little they can do about stowaways.

Mayoral committee member for social development Suzette Little says homeless shelters do not take in stowaways.

The Scalabrini Centre, however, works with refugees, including stowaways.

Corey Johnson, an advocacy officer there, says very few stowaways seek the assistance of the NGO.

P&I insurance representative Neil Chetty says while stowaways sought to access Cape Town Harbour, it remained relatively secure.

“But we do have stowaways who come from West Africa, which we take off in Cape Town.

“Stowaways trying to get on to vessels is a bigger issue for Durban… These stowaways know that these ships are either going to the East or Europe.

“Most of them take a chance, they know if they go on board they’ll get a free meal and ablution facilities,” said Chetty.

He said one motivating factor for all stowaways was almost always poverty in their home countries.

“If they had work in their home countries, they would not want to go on this adventure,” said Chetty.

Apart from the border police stationed at South Africa’s ports of entry like harbours, shipping companies also use the services of private security companies to detect and remove stowaways from vessels.

Should a stowaway be found, shipping companies bear the responsibility of repatriating the individual.

The border patrol unit of the SAPS did not respond to questions at the time of going to press.

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