Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Slice of life: ‘If I can put a bit of colour’

A spotted pink suitcase with a hairline crack makes its way by bus from Randburg to Beitbridge, and then through Zimbabwe to Mozambique. From there, the suitcase takes a winding route to Malawi.

It is strapped on top of the bus, and sometimes it sits in the trunk. For four days the suitcase’s contents bounce. The blankets and slippers cushion the tinned food, the money for private school fees crinkles. Until a small man unpacks the suitcase in his home of Mzuzu.

The man is Alan Ngwira, who has spent the last year, one of 10, working in Johannesburg. It is his first day off, his first holiday in a year. He will spend it with his wife and two children.

“They are growing”, Ngwira says of his children. “You can imagine, if you are not there … then you just see them. They are growing fast like trees.”

Ngwira knows a lot about trees. He was born into a farming family before training as an electrician. But the shortage of jobs in Malawi led him to South Africa to find work to give his family a better life.

Out of the seven days in the week, he tries to work all of them. Each day, after delivering the morning papers, he will cut, trim, water and sweep gardens in the suburb of Blairgowrie.

He doesn’t limit himself to mere garden maintenance though. “When I look around, then I see, I just see if in this area I can put a little bit of that colour or a little bit of this, then maybe it can look beautiful,” says Ngwira, who finds new homes for plant cuttings among his clients’ gardens.

Ngwira no longer uses the pink suitcase. He has given it to his daughter, who is starting standard eight at a private school in Malawi. — Alan Ngwira as told to Gemma Ritchie

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

Tourism industry hopeful of UK red list review

Meeting between scientists of both countries may pave way for removal from red list

R350 social relief grant not enough to live on

Nearly half of the population in South Africa — one of the most unequal countries in the world — is considered chronically poor.

More top stories

Tourism industry hopeful of UK red list review

Meeting between scientists of both countries may pave way for removal from red list

Triple murder in Khayelitsha investigated by police

Three young women have been shot dead execution-style in one of Cape Town’s gang-riddled communities

Q&A Sessions: Kagiso Rabada — ‘When I retire, I will...

Kagiso Rabada talks to Eyaaz Matwadia about his love for music and production, how the lockdown affected him, and how he hopes to get back to his best

State to subpoena and fact-check Agrizzi’s ‘illness’ claims

The National Prosecuting Authority will conduct its own probe into Angelo Agrizzi’s claims of ill health, after he failed to attend court again

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…