Timus Mubia escaped with only his life twice in the past 11 years in South Africa. Called a kwerekwere and hounded out of various townships for being Namibian and for being unable to speak isiXhosa, he has been living in various refugee camps for the past five months.
He fled Du Noon township at the end of May this year when xenophobic violence broke out there. He is now in Blue Waters camp outside Muizenberg.
I am a decent man. I don’t like violence. My story is about poor people and what happens to poor people like me.
Twice now I have felt the fear of xenophobic attacks. That fear when the men with their sticks surround you and speak isiXhosa to you, waiting for your answer. And you can’t answer. Twice. Once in 2001 and then again in 2008.
I am still young and I am not ready to die. I want to live. I want to work. I’m a decent man who believes in God and who believes in the goodness of people.
Living in this country today is not good because no man can live with so much fear. No man must wake up, wash his face and eat and not know the difference between right and wrong.
Discrimination destroys people’s lives and I am one of thousands of people whose lives are being destroyed in South Africa today.
I am from the Himba tribe in Northern Namibia. I was born in 1972. Himba people don’t yet realise the importance of education. I was lucky to get a date of birth because a white man came to the village at the time of my birth.
I came to South Africa in 1997 looking for a better life. At the time I was illiterate and couldn’t speak English or isiXhosa and for a 25-year-old that was very embarrassing.
People mocked me because I didn’t know how to approach them.
My desire was to go to night school, but I had a big fear because I couldn’t communicate.
In 1998 I met a man from Namibia and I told him I’m from the Kaokaland and he said he was a school teacher and he offered to teach me how to read and write.
I was so overwhelmed when he started teaching me the alphabet and consonants and vowels.
At the beginning all I wanted to do was to write my name and to write a sentence with the words in the correct order. After three months I could start writing down my imagination. That was like magic to me.
My teacher told me the only way to learn this English language is to speak it. He said don’t be shy! Speak! I started to buy books and newspapers and read as much as I could.
In 1999 my friend found me job at the Seven Eleven as a baker. Then in 2000 my dream came true and I went to the Adult Learning Centre at night. I was there until 2001.
But then in 2001 the world ended. The South Africans in Du Noon said we must go away because they hate us. There was a lot of conflict between the South Africans and other Namibians.
The government then moved us into a tent where we had to wear the same clothes day and night. Everything I owned was destroyed and stolen. My shack. My possessions.
I lost my job as a baker because I was too scared to take a taxi to work. The violence threatened my very life.
I so much wanted to finish my education.
I saw my vision and life just hovering in the air.
I started working on the sea in 2002. I hated it. It was just work and eat and sleep with no knowledge and no reading and no writing.
What I wanted in life was to become educated and have opportunities and face up to challenges.
I came back to Cape Town in 2003 and went back to the tent. But there was nobody. People said that the foreigners went back to the communities. I praised God, for now I could concentrate on becoming literate.
In 2004 I joined my literacy school again and the driving school. At the end of 2004, I passed my grade 2. In 2005 I passed grade 3 and got my driver’s license.
I started another course on how to be a fire fighter and do first aid and personal safety.
In 2006 I applied for a job at Elite Maritime Personnel. They offered me a contract to travel to Antarctica. On this journey my dream was to become a chef.
In September 2007 I decided to study at Northlink College and took a course in cooking. I completed the course and registered with the Community Youth Development Programme. The registration fee was R3 000.
I told myself that they would offer me a job in America with the Florida Orlando Marriots Grande Vista Hotel. On November 27 I got a call from the lady who congratulated me and said: “Welcome to the United States!”
I felt triumphant in my soul because I got that wonderful message which read: “With congratulations, Timus, you have been accepted.”
I applied for a visa and paid R750. They confirmed my interview with the US ambassador on December 10 2007. I was so very happy. My dream was coming true. I could read. I could write. I could dream and my dreams could come true.
Then the US Ambassador turned me down, saying I have not strong enough ties with South Africa. I understood because I understood the boundary and regulations he was explaining to me.
I lost that money.
When I thought nothing worse could happen, 2008 came and the Xhosas with their sticks and anger against us.
Now I’m living in a tent again and my life hovers in the air and in the darkness.
I’m poor, but I’m a hard worker. I don’t want to become a thief. I don’t want to grow old alone but how can I take a wife and have a family when I can’t predict tomorrow?
I don’t know who I am. Am I a foreigner or an African? In this situation of xenophobic attacks, I am so confused that I can’t think straight.
Every day I pray and ask God what the purpose of my life is.
I have a right in this world. I have the right to be free and to work and do with my life what is good and decent.