Dreaming of a new Jerusalem

FAITH (not her real name) is in her 20s, tall and slender. She wears a red T-shirt. A checked cotton skirt peeps out from under the threadbare maroon towel wrapped around her waist. Her blue-cloth shoes have seen many washing days. She carries her 21-month-old daughter in one arm and clutches a phone in her free hand. Faith has lived in Jerusalem, an informal settlement between Boksburg and Germiston, since 2006, but only started playing Fafi last year.

She is one of many. Gloria Azwidohi Ramasunzi, 52, one of the first residents and proprietor of the only crèche in the settlement, says Jerusalem was created in 1998 after the Jordan Mining Company closed. Ramasunzi came to Jerusalem in May 1998 from Goodhope. “People said Jerusalem had space. So we came and started to build shacks.” The shacks are made of old bricks, iron sheets, car tyres, cardboard and whatever materials the residents come up with.

There are salons, a metal furniture shop and spaza shops. There is no electricity. Many of the women who have no jobs make a little money through gambling. Faith speaks softly when she talks about the Fafi numbers game. “Fafi or the China Game is about a Chinese girl who used to gamble with black p e o p l e ,” she says. Players choose which numbers to gamble based on what they dreamt the night before. A group representative takes the bets in one bag to the “China Man”, or “Fafi ”, as they call him.

“He comes at 12.30pm and at 5pm,” says Faith. “We bet on numbers ranging from 1 to 36. He gives  number and each person who wrote the winning number wins.” From memory, she recounts the numbers and their meanings, giving insight into the dreams of those who play: “1. King. 2 Monkey. 3. Big Water. 4. Dead. 5 Tiger. 6. Cow. 7. Knife. 8. Pregnant woman. 9. Hat or blood. 10. Eggs. 11. Small car. 12. Dead woman. 13. Big fish. 14. Granny. 15. Bitch. 16. Cloth. 17. A beautiful woman. 18. Silver money or gold. 19. Girls. 20. Cat 21. Elephant. 22. Big car. 23. Horse. 24. Mouth. 25. Big house. 26. Soldier. 27. Police. 28. Shoes. 29. Small water. 30. Pastor. 31. Fire. 32. Money. 33. Boys. 34. Fees. 35. Hole. 36. Gun.”

“When I dream about my father,” she says, “I know that when Fafi comes, I will write 1 or 4 or 30. I choose the numbers that represent my dad.” Bets and payouts are limited, she says. “If I bet five bob [50 cents] and my number is the one Fafi says, then I win R14. If I bet with R2, Fafi pays me R56 if I win. (Read full article: Dreaming of a new Jerusalem March 3 2013 )


Homeless: Sleeping outside, in silent protest

First published in the M&G online on January 31, 2013:

Following the police incidence in which, Mido Macia, a Mozambican taxi driver was dragged on the streets of Johannesburg and later died from his injuries, I repost an article I published early in the year based on interviews with homeless migrants in Pretoria and their interactions with the South African police and other institutions.

Nasfim Kapley, a migrant from Ethiopia, indicates the spaces he navigates in Pretoria.
Photo: Jackee Budesta Batanda

We first meet Patrick Naimana on a Tuesday evening at a soup kitchen outreach with staff from the Tswhane Leadership Foundation. We ask him whether we can meet with more of his colleagues for an interview. He agrees to set up the meeting.

Home for Naimana and his colleagues is a car park on Prinsloo Street next to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offices on Francis Baard Street (formerly Schoeman Street). This is the first stop for the soup kitchen van after it leaves the foundation’s premises.

A man emerges from the shadows and comes to the van when we park. He says he will run and alert the others. The lilt of his voice makes me know that he is from Uganda. I can trace that accent anywhere. I learn his name is John.

John returns with five men. One of them, Mohammed, stands tall and distinguished. He softly requests for two soup bowls. We want to chat with him but he is hesitant to talk. He asks if we can return another time. He tells us to ask for Mohammed. He says he is from Somalia and has to rush back to his ailing brother. His brother, he says, is sick and is lying under a tree. He needs to take him food. He dashes off into the darkness.

Naimana interjects that the metro police beat up Mohammed’s brother. He is too weak to walk but is getting better he says, but needs prayers. We promise to say a prayer for him.

We schedule an interview and exchange numbers with Naimana. He tells us to be in Pretoria at 6am before everyone leaves in search for the day’s meal. We agree to have breakfast with them.

Breaking the news
On the Friday morning, when we arrive at the car park a little after 6am, we find that Naimana has spoken to his colleagues about us as promised. We have carried breakfast to share with the group. We set up the picnic basket and put clothes on the grass which will serve as our mats. Breakfast is tea, coffee, a mix of vegetable and meat sandwiches, and apples.

Naimana breaks the news to us. He says there was a police operation the previous night and some men were captured and will be deported. John, the Ugandan, was among those captured.

He adds that Mohammed’s brother died on Wednesday night, just after our first visit with the soup kitchen outreach. Mohammed cannot take part in the group session. We offer him tea and he goes away. We sit in silence. We finally learn his brother’s name: Abdi Rashid.

Nasfim Kapley, a migrant from Ethiopia breaks the silence. He blames the metro police for indiscriminate abuse.

“They come here. It’s very cold at nights and the only blanket you have, they come and take it to be burned or put in their car,” he says.

He adds that sometimes when the police bloodily assault the migrants, they do not take them to the police station.

 Read more: Mail&Guardian Online

Rwandair successfully sabotaging its own grand plan to become the aviation leader in the region

I had heard so much from friends and family about Rwandair’s good deals. The Rwandan national carrier is fast becoming a favorite of many travelers on a budget. When my big sister, Gertrude, visited me in Johannesburg last November, she came aboard Rwandair and loved it. She had been upgraded to business class on the Kigali-Johannesburg leg of the trip. Jealous, right? I surely was.

So when I got my South Africa visa renewed on 10 Jan 2013, four days to my proposed date of travel, Rwandair was my preferred carrier of choice. I skipped from the South Africa High Commission on Nakasero Road down to the splash Rwenzori Courts, where the Rwandair offices are located, as catalogued in the Eye Magazine. And when I got there, the ticket cost me $565. It was a fabulous deal, I paid on spot and prepared for my night flight.

I have since learnt to travel light, and in this case, light means carrying one slightly over weight suitcase. Yes, I am known to travel with no less than 3 huge suitcases. So doing one is a mighty downgrade. I gave myself points for fitting my life over the next 15 months in Johannesburg into one bright orange Gino De Vinci suitcase.  Life was good.

After hours of waiting, transit and eventual travel, we landed at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg at the scheduled time- 5:30am on Tuesday morning. Tired from the flight and reeling from lack of sleep, we filed out of the plane and headed for the immigration desks. Once we completed with immigration, we moved to carousel 2 where the Rwandair baggage would come through. The carousel slowly spat out the baggage. It made a low humming sound as it made the rounds laden with bags. We crowded around it waiting for our luggage. No one seemed to be picking up their luggage, yet the carousel kept spilling out more and more bags.

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Celebrating ordinary Ugandans doing extraordinary things

Photo by MICHELE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images

Now that 2012 has come to a close, I can say that it has been an interesting year for Uganda, with the country experiencing some of the greatest highs and lows in its history. The country just buried a young woman member of parliament from the ruling party, Hon. Cerinah Nebandah from the Butaleja District in Eastern Uganda, who died under mysterious circumstances. Her suspected poisoning has strongly divided the nation. The official government autopsy report claims she died from a drug and alcohol overdose, but her family and legislators have rejected the findings. The debate, however, does bring to the fore the alcohol and drug problem in Uganda, which society has failed to acknowledge as a deeply entrenched problem among young people. What I see, above all, is the loss of one of Uganda’s most vibrant young politicians. For many young people, the 24-year-old Nebanda represented a new political force that could potentially cleanse the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party from within.

Read more: Transitions

Uganda celebrates its tech entrepreneurs


Photo credit: Teamcipher256

Three students from the Makerere University College of Computing and Information Sciences have won the Microsoft Imagine Cup Grant worth $50,000 for their project WinSenga, a smartphone app that performs ultrasounds on pregnant women and can detect problems like ectopic pregnancies and abnormal heartbeats. The winning, Team Cipher256, consists of Aaron Tushabe, Joshua Okello, and Josiah Kavuma. The Daily Monitor reports:

Apart from the cash prize, the three will receive software, computing services, solution provider support, access to local resources, among others. Microsoft will also connect grant recipients with its network of investors, NGO partners and business partners and will work with the grant recipients to tailor individual support as needed depending on the progress each team has made so far with its project. The program is expected to reduce the maternal mortality rate, which currently stand[s] at 16 mothers a day in Uganda…

The purpose of the Imagine Cup is to bring together and support student innovators from all over the world. These days many Ugandans are choosing to focus their endeavors on mobile technology. Mobile technology is one of the fastest-growing industries in Africa, and young Ugandan techies are tapping into this potential. Telecommunications companies like Orange Uganda have held competitions to encourage the creation of mobile phone applications. Every year, Orange Uganda organizes the “Community Innovations Awards”, a competition which recognizes the most impressive ideas in mobile app developments. These awards allow young developers in Uganda to create new technologies that can be used in agriculture, health, or education.

Read more: Transitions

What Uganda can do to end the crisis in Congo

L-R: President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and President Joseph Kabila of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at a press meeting in the Ugandan capital Kampala to discuss a solution to the M23 rebel group and the escalating conflict in eastern DRC
Photo: Peter Busomoke/AFP/Getty Images

Last week the UN finally released a controversial report that accuses Uganda and Rwanda of supporting rebels in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). When a leaked version of the report first appeared in October, Uganda’s Army spokesperson, Felix Kulayigye dismissed it: “It’s hogwash, it’s a mere rumor that’s being taken as a report,” he told Radio France Internationale. “It’s undermining the credibility of the mediator which is Uganda, and when you undermine the credibility of the mediator you are actually undermining the entire process.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that Uganda has threatened to respond to the charges by withdrawing from its African peacekeeping missions in the DRC, Somalia, and the Central African Republic.

The paper quoted the Ugandan Foreign Ministry as follows: “Uganda’s withdrawal from regional peace efforts, including Somalia… would become inevitable unless the U.N. corrects the false accusations made against Uganda.” In addition, a delegation of Ugandan officials held talks with individual members of the UN Security Council in early November to protest the allegations in the UN report.

In May, Aljazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri visited a base of the M23 rebel movement in eastern DRC near the Rwandan border. The rebels told her that they were fighting because the Congolese government had failed to meet its obligations outlined in the peace accords.

Read more: Transitions

On the streets, Rocky and Lacosta dream of a music career

Sylvester Masiba (Rocky) and Lucky Ndaba (Lacosta) have been brought together by a mutual love for music.
Photo: Jackee Budesta Batanda

Sylvester Masiba (27), whose music name is Rocky, is one of the homeless migrants who go to the Tshwane Leadership Foundation every day for breakfast. He also benefits from the Tuesday evening soup kitchens. We first meet in the Foundation dining room, where we wait for other homeless men to come and participate in the research.

Donning a dirty cream hooded sweatshirt and black jeans, Masiba carries an air of confidence. He asks to know what the program is about. I explain to him that we are interested in having a conversation about their experiences on the street and to assess their vulnerabilities.

Masiba looks me straight in the eye and says that being on the street does not mean that they have no dreams or wishes.

Read more: Mail & Guardian