Linda Mbiko: "Johannesburg is a place of gold, but it's not easy to get that gold, even if you dig"

Monday, February 4, 2008

Linda Mbiko*, a 36-year-old widow, crossed the border from Zimbabwe into South Africa, hidden in the back of a truck. She was fleeing poverty and a public health system that had failed to help her HIV-positive daughter. In Johannesburg, she believed she could earn enough money to send some home and find treatment for herself and her child, but without documentation she found the city a hostile place.

“After my husband passed away, I had no one to rely on, I had no food. When he was working, that little money was something to us. I was staying in rural areas and the life there was not easy; I had two kids to take care of and I did not even have parents. Sometimes, I had to sleep without food because I had no money and even if I had a little money, it was not easy to get food because there was no food in the shops.

"Otherwise I was sick all the time and my child was ill as well, but I was not sure what it was and it was difficult because if you do not have money, you are not going to get anything. Only those people who have a lot of money get treatment.

“In the clinic, they decided to test my child and she was positive. I was afraid I was as well, but I did not want to believe it. There was no treatment so I used to get medicine from a tree, which we call Muringa, the leaves of this tree - if you make it into powder and put it in porridge people say it helps. That was what we were depending on.

“When I came to South Africa, I was hoping to get a job and take care of my children, especially this one who is sick of the deadly disease. I was also hoping to find something which was going to make me last longer because I was sick. I was thinking, I’ll go to Johannesburg, because it is a place of gold. But it is not easy to get that gold even if you dig and dig you will not get it.

“It was different from what I was expecting. I was hoping for a job, a better life, better accommodation, but when I came here it was not easy. I had to spend most of my time in the park. You stay in the park because you have nowhere to go and sleep.

“One day I met a man who offered to help me, but he used me for sex at the end of the day. Sometimes he locked me in his room, so I stayed for a week and then I escaped and was back on the streets.

“I got sick and I went to the clinic in Braamfontein [an area in Johannesburg’s inner city] to be tested. I had to wait for two weeks to get the results and I did not get counselling. The nurse who gave me the results told me, ‘Here are your results; you are HIV positive, you can go and die. You do not have papers, we can not help you.’

“Some other patients told me about a shelter and at the shelter I heard about the support group. They referred me to Nazareth House [a Catholic mission in Johannesburg’s inner-city] where I got counselling and ARVs (antiretrovirals) and they never asked about papers.

“I’m still staying at the shelter, still not working. I don’t have much contact with my family because they live in rural areas; I don’t know how they’re surviving.

“The support group has helped a lot, just to unload and give each other advice. Most are from Zimbabwe and have similar experiences.”

Source: PlusNews