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 Tuesday 27 May 2008
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Linda Mbiko: "Johannesburg is a place of gold, but it's not easy to get that gold, even if you dig"
January 2008 (PlusNews)

Photo: IOM
“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."
JOHANNESBURG, 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.”


*Not her real name


[The above testimony is provided by IRIN, a humanitarian news service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]

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This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States. Republication is subject to terms and conditions as set out in the IRIN copyright page.