Tshepo Manzi, a South African musician who was stuck in Brazil for more than six months. Picture: Itumeleng English African News Agency (ANA)

Johannesburg - After being kept virtually against his will and almost declared of unsound mind in Brazil, a man previously reported missing has returned home to his family in Midrand, to their huge relief.
Born and bred in Lambeth, London, to exiled South African parents, Tshepo Ketlile Manzi, 38, was invited to Paulista, Sao Paulo, by an acquaintance in England who hooked him up with contacts in South America, ostensibly for music gigs.

Manzi is a percussionist whose favourite instrument is the djembe drum.

Six months later, it turned out that there was no music gig in the first place and he had to fight tooth and nail to escape Caps (psychosocial care centres), a mental asylum for immigrants that he was committed to.

Caps is a virtual prison, Manzi says. In time he would stop taking the medication he was put on. “It made me lame and weak.”

He left his home in England in May this year, excited about the prospect of learning new cultures and discovering the music scene in Brazil, he says.

“In my life, I have toured the whole of Britain. There was nothing left for me to see. I jumped at the chance to go to Brazil,” he says.

He was asked to book into a hotel - at his own account - and wait to be contacted by someone in Brazil.

“The first two weeks or so, communication was good on the phone with the contact back in the UK. But then it suddenly stopped. About another month later, I ran low on funds and switched to a cheaper hotel. Just when I was about to give up, a guy came to me to say they were still sorting out some logistics, and he’d be back for me. He even gave me some money, not much, towards the hotel stay.”

Unbeknown to him, that would be the last time he saw the Brazilian. His contact in England had stopped taking his calls.

At 50 Brazilian real (R178) a day, his second hotel was almost a hovel, the cheapest lodgings he could afford. As was to be expected, he ran out of cash.

Travelling on a British passport, he contacted the consulate in Sao Paulo, to no avail.

His mother in Lambeth had meanwhile reported him missing.

“I told the consulate staff that I was struggling, and needed help to go back home. But then again, when no help was forthcoming, I remained hopeful that I could score some music gigs on my own, then save to buy a ticket out,” Manzi says.

“I did not contact my family, for fear of causing unnecessary panic. I did not consider my situation dire at the time.”

He began to see the ugly side of Brazil when he registered as a stranded foreigner: “They call you strangers in Brazil, not foreigners.”

He was moved to Grass, a home for strangers in distress. But, he says, it is overrun by local homeless people.

Many of the Africans he met in Grass - from Senegal, Sierra Leone and Ghana, among others - had given up hope about going back home.

They are on medication from Caps “and all they do is take the pills and sleep".

"It is not normal for a human being to spend their time sleeping.”

He says each time he broached the subject of leaving, they dismissed him, saying “this is home”.

By the third month, he was frantically searching for internet access. He makes it sound like mere access to a computer is a luxury not accorded to many in Brazil.

“There are no internet cafés in Brazil,” he adds.

As his phone was stolen, he couldn’t gain internet access. The other option - joining a library - was not open to him. He held on to his passport for dear life.

In South Africa, both his uncles Gabaipewe and Pule Pheto were also frantic in their search for him.

When Manzi was finally able to steal into a computer, he made contact with his uncle Pule, also a musician.

Pule was on tour in Europe at the time and saw the pain his sister was going through looking for her son.

Contact made on Facebook, the family held on to Manzi, sending him money through Western Union. “I then bought a phone,” he said.

The family made contact with the authorities at Caps, through Pedro, who informed them he was a resident psychologist at the facility. “Pedro asked us to speak to Tshepo to get him to take his medication,” said Gabaipewe. “He said Tshepo had psychosomatic outbursts, whatever these were.”

Gabaipewe, of Midrand, was beginning to hear horror stories about Brazil from friends, some of whom lost relatives to the drug trade.

Both uncle and nephew are adamant the Africans in Brazil are being turned into drug mules.

The family bought Manzi a ticket out “just to fool customs into thinking he was coming back”.

Due to fly out on November 8 - as fate would have it, his birthday - he was slapped with another 10-day delay because he could only fly out to South Africa if he took a jab for yellow fever.

For those 10 days, the family kept in close touch with him, imploring him to take selfies throughout until he was on the plane for take-off.

The Sunday Independent