Bent of back but strong in spirit, Zoroao approaches a potential benefactor. Pictures: Charles Johnstone
Bent of back but strong in spirit, Zoroao approaches a potential benefactor. Pictures: Charles Johnstone
Bright-eyed Zoroao from Maputo, Mozambique, begs at an intersection on Bompas Road.
Bright-eyed Zoroao from Maputo, Mozambique, begs at an intersection on Bompas Road.


If you have ever travelled along Bompas Road in Dunkeld, you might have encountered the hunchback who begs there. He has been around a long time.
The other day, I idly mentioned the possibility of interviewing him and got surprisingly diverse reactions.

One of my friends is convinced he has mental issues; another thinks he is just “bloody surly”, and yet another says, “if your window is open, he almost sticks his hump in your face”

A positive response was, “I quite like him and always give him change, although I’ve never chatted to him.”

Paradoxically, when I waved at the little fellow on Monday afternoon, he scuttled across enthusiastically, immediately agreed to my request to interview him, and happily settled in the car, smiling in acceptance when offered a Coke.

The Hunchback of Bompass Road

An interviewer should be impartial.

But as the bright-eyed Zoroao settled into my car beside me, it was difficult not to feel sympathy for him.

Yet I soon discovered he doesn’t feel the slightest bit of unhappiness about his predicament; being misshapen or being on the street. So why did I?

“I am from Mozambique,” he said clearly, “I have been here 18 years. I am 36.”

“What town you from?”

“Matola (suburb) inMaputo. I have a house there. It was my father’s and he has passed and now it is for me.”

“Tell me about growing up?”

“My mother didn’t have money and when I was very small my father was already running away and living in South Africa

“Baba, let me tell you my story.” He paused, took a sip of his Coke and started quietly.

“I was still very little. I was walking with my hands on the ground,” he mimicked a child crawling.

“My mother was working and she left this other person to look for me.

In Matola we have to go to the big tap to get water. There is a pump with a long handle. You keep pulling for water to come.

“Because this one who was looking for me was going to get water, they take me.

“When we get there they hang me from the pump handle and they swing me. They think they playing with their child.

“She put me there and then she leaves me and I falling down on the stone wall for the buckets. I break my spinal cord.

“When my mum comes from work, the people who watching me - my mother pay them - they don’t say anything; they just show I’m not moving.”

He had another sip of the Coke, then continued: “They take me to hospital and I had a mega (his word) operation to straighten me.”

With that he turned so I could get a clear look at his hump. “You can see the stitch marks,” he said. I could.

The next bit was a bit confused, but in essence it seems that in hospital a doctor was”playing” with him and moved him before he was, “strong” and undid all the good from the operation.

“My mum was very angry and never took me back to the hospital.”

“How is your back now?”

“Ahhhh,” he said,” sounding strangely satisfied. “I’m feeling good. Sometimes it getting sore if it cold or I’m working too much hard, but otherwise it is okay.”

“Are you angry with the people who did this to you - the lady who let you fall, the doctor?”

“No. I will never be cross. It is the way God put me, so I’m going to be like this.”

“Tell me about working here.”

“I am here at seven and I shayile (knock off) at five o’clock. I come with the taxi. I spending R50 going and coming here. On a good day I make enough and, sho on a bad day I’m making too little.

“Another day I’m not working. Then I stay home and I play cards with my wife. I do my washing and I clean my house nice. I don’t have friends except for the madala (old chap) I give the rent to.

“I stay in Thembisa in a one-room house. I’m paying R900 a month rent. I got nice place. I have TV, a fridge - it is good.”

Not exactly what I expected.

“My wife and my daughter. Portia and Daniele,” he smiled broadly, “they staying with me.

“But now they go to Mozambique last two weeks. They come back end of the month; I collect them.

“Daniele, my little girl, she is powerful in Portuguese and English. She too clever,” he smiled proudly. A typical daddy.

“What do you do about food?”

“Me I’m having a banana and an apple this morning before I come here. During the day I don’t like to eat too much; I don’t know why. But when I shayile, I eat pap and meat.”

He laughed happily. Despite appearances, he is a remarkably cheerful chap. In between interchanges, he smiled pleasantly at me.

I’m not sure why, but it made me feel uncomfortable. Almost as if, given his circumstances and tragic mishap, he should be more miserable.

“What do you do if you need the toilet or water?”

He pointed down Fricker Road and said, “I go by the construction company. They don’t mind.

“And water,” he said. This time he pointed at a house on the other side of Bompas and laughed, as though making a joke, “They say I can use a tap there any time.”

“You appear to be religious: Where did you learn about God?

“That time I was very small, my mother took me to Zion and then to Jordan. Always I be with God.”

For a moment he sounded like an evangelist getting into his stride, but didn’t.

His greatest desire in life appears to be to purchase cement, go back to Matola and put a wall around his dwelling. To fit windows and curiously, a mirror.

“The house must be ready for my wife and then she can go live there. Then I can buy a car and I can come here and work,” he said.

“I don’t think I will leave this place. It is like a church to me. God looks after me here”

I was about to ask him what he thought his renovations might cost when he offered, “I’m budgeting.”

Well, knock me down with a feather; the disabled beggar budgets

“I have R3000 I saved,” he said. “But I need 10. I can’t be selling my house in Matola so I must fix it.”

He looked me in the eye, smiled and said, as if to reassure me, “Baba, my mind is good. My heart is good.”

We shook hands and he took his leave.

The Saturday Star