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From Rwandan tragedy to healing in South Africa

Pie-Pacifique Kabalira-Uwase tells of his journey from teenaged Rwandan refugee to Durban car guard to director of his own growing company in his book Witnessing.

Pie-Pacifique Kabalira-Uwase tells of his journey from teenaged Rwandan refugee to Durban car guard to director of his own growing company in his book Witnessing.

Published Apr 2, 2022


After surviving war atrocities in his native Rwanda, 14-year-old Pie-Pacifique Kabalira-Uwase knew he had to leave if he wanted to keep alive.

In 2001, Kabalira-Uwase decided to flee to Canada, but after being scammed and losing all his money, he ended up in South Africa, where he worked as a car guard in the Durban city centre to get by.

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Kabalira-Uwase said it was not easy to leave home and his family behind at such a young age.

“It was a very difficult moment of separation, especially for a not-guaranteed future of safety. Not knowing where I was going to end up was also a factor that added to the fear.

“My family let me go, hoping to receive good news some day,” said Kabalira-Uwase.

He said the murder of his brother in his village finally motivated him to leave.

“After my brother was killed, my mother would not stop asking me to go. It took two years of resistance and eventually it became too painful to realise how scared we all were. “It was no longer about me, it was about the family,” said Kabalira-Uwase.

He said after arriving in Durban, he was put up by other Rwandans he met at the Point area, and that is when he started making some income as a car guide.

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Despite facing many obstacles, Kabalira-Uwase enrolled at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where he not only completed a degree in physics, but was awarded the prestigious Mandela-Rhodes Scholarship.

“I would wake up some days, walk to the parking spot and hope for the best. At the end of the day, sometimes I went home with a smile, then on days I didn’t work, it was a trip to Home Affairs for my papers, or the library to learn English.

“I kept my future in mind. I fought with institutions, which meant less time car guarding. I was the poorest in my community, but for a good reason, and the following year I was a University of KwaZulu-Natal student.

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“I fought my way with principles: I was a refugee, surely there was a way a university could accommodate me?

“So I sought the highest authority in the institution who could do something about it, and the dean of student services listened, but it still took weeks into the semester for everything to be finalised.”

Pie-Pacifique Kabalira-Uwase's book Witnessing.

Kabalira-Uwase said he had experienced such extraordinary life events, that he decided to put them in writing and share them with the world in his book, Witnessing.

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“It was not about deciding to become an author. I realised I had witnessed a variety of events for a reason and that reason, I am figuring it out. But first, as a witness, I want to honour it and share, so that we can all witness it together,” said Kabalira-Uwase.

He said the book was about his emotional but rewarding journey of self-discovery, where he confronts the depth of his traumatic past and reaches for his dreams.

“The story of of my upbringing is there now, I am curious what this will mean for the future, but that chapter is literally closed and a new one begins.

“I have had highs and lows, but nothing compares to the week my daughter was born.

“As for where I am now, my own consulting firm is growing faster than I anticipated, and next I am going to be teaching lessons I have learnt along the way,” said Kabalira-Uwase.

He is the founder and director of management and consulting company PEM Afurika and aims to help entrepreneurs adopt a problem-solving-based business development system.

The Independent on Saturday