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Pilgrims Of Fortune Part 5: Promising Life Ahead

I had been in Johannesburg for almost a month now still searching for work. My pocket money reserve was dwindling each day with nothing to ...

I had been in Johannesburg for almost a month now still searching for work. My pocket money reserve was dwindling each day with nothing to replenish it. In my diary, I had kept a distant relative’s contact. 

By Derick Matsengarwodzi

So I decided to call Terence. He soon invited me to Pretoria to try my luck in the industrial sites. I left for Pretoria, 60 kilometres from Johannesburg aboard the public train. To evade scrutiny, I left my belongings in Voslorus, carrying essentials only.

The trip through the swarming subway is intimidating, especially to a beginner like me. But for R8, it was worth the risk. Police and immigration officials carry out regular checks on wanted criminals and undocumented foreigners to flush them out.

As the train cruised by, the officials rummaged through luggage at random to locate drugs or any other illegal possessions. They soon approached me. I panicked. One bulky officer greeted me in a local language, which I later learnt was Sotho. I replied in English, exposing my foreign personality.

“Do you have your passport with you?”
Seeking Jobs On The Streets Of Johannesburg 

I quickly fished out the required document from my convenient upper pocket. I handed it to him. His inspection was abrupt before he finally handed it back to me. For a moment, he thought he had encountered an illegitimate immigrant.

“What brings you here – Mr and where are you going?”

This was a question I was always prepared to respond to. In fact, you get the first lesson on how to speak to police and Home Affairs personnel, the moment you enter South Africa. So I knew that without planning of the words to say and how to say them, I would not last longer than I anticipated and my journey to riches would be curtailed abruptly.

“I am here for a visit and I am going to Mamelodi to see my brother who stays there.”

I said exactly as I was told.

“I hope you are telling the truth.”

Of course I was lying – I had to halt any further enquiries. The officers moved to the next compartment. I had last seen Terrence four years back. I was not sure I would meet him again, certainly not under these taxing conditions. I arrived at Bosman train station in central Pretoria, as he had instructed. Surely, he was there waiting for me. I was the first to notice him standing next to his bicycle.

“I am so glad to see you, old mate,” I commenced the conversation.

“It’s always a pleasure to meet after all these years,” he also said.

We took a taxi to the Township. Mamelodi, Nelmaphius to be accurate is like all the other ghettos. Hordes of youths meander throughout the suburbs without a defined purpose. Contrary, fancy cars drive through the area after a long day’s work. The Township is always an area of extreme ambiguities.

Taverns are conveniently dotted along the streets for those who seek to satisfy their thirst. Before we get home, we sit in one of the pubs. As usual, the music is deafening. Kwaito and House music rule here, unlike back home. We don’t talk except sip on our extra icy quarts. After a couple of rounds, we vacate the premises.

Home is a wooden shack shared by other two Zimbabwean chaps. I don’t know them nor do I recall their names. But because I was staying with them, we become buddies – a friendship of convenience. The room was tiny, so I had to occupy a frayed sofa that was picked from a dump in an affluent suburb. 

I was now used to the scarcity of accommodation not limited to my countrymen but in the republic. Back home, we lived in a spacious house despite the economic bite that we endured.
Hive Of Activity At A Train Station In South Africa 

Terrence stayed next door together with his wife. Early each morning he cycled to work. I remained searching for work in the nearby industrial sites. Often, there were clear erected billboards screaming at me: no work. I always entered to make sure. Vacancies are not easy to find if you don’t know anyone.

Someday I travelled to downtown Gezina in search of possible employment. Here tradesmen raise placards displaying their different trades. I was a mere journalist but I dearly needed a job, anything available. But patience is a virtue and here you needed it in abundance.

Late at noon, I returned home dejected with my failure but Terrence always upped my optimism. I needed that, I would say as we drank from an adjacent tavern after he returned from work. The following week my visa was expiring so I had to leave for the Beirtbridge border post to get my passport stamped, otherwise I would be deemed an illegal visitor.

That evening Terrence brought me some elevating piece of news. “I managed to get you a job at my workplace, you can start tomorrow morning.”

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