Refugee Stories: Moses Chikwanda

For three hours after my boss shot me, I lay in the leaves, hidden by trees, waiting for help. I didn’t ask questions. I still don’t know how I got to this place.

I came to Cape Town from Harare. My mother died when I was a baby. By 13, I was pulled from school because my father couldn’t pay the fees. I traveled alone to Wedza, an isolated rural community, where I herded cattle. At 15, I had saved up enough money to return to Harare. My father had remarried and was living with his wife in a small hut, so I moved in with a childhood friend.

We lived in a one-room shack balanced on concrete bricks, our cots pushed together. A strong rain could push the structure over. I cleaned houses once a week, earning just enough to buy bread and mealie-meal. Some days, I was hungry. There was so little work in Zimbabwe.

People returned from abroad, saying that life was better in South Africa. For six months, I saved R1500 to pay smugglers. On a hot summer day in 2009, two men drove me and seven others to the border. I was 18 years old.

For six hours, our small group, led by a smuggler, walked on a dense path through the bush. We spoke about everyday things but the fear was there: fear of crocodiles in the river, of the police, and of guma gumas — criminals who hide, waiting to rob and rape refugees. We prayed. And then we crossed the high river and made it to South Africa. The South African police stopped us once, but all they wanted was a small bribe. Relieved, we continued on our way.

In Cape Town, a Zimbabwean lady kept me well for four days and told me about a job on a farm. I was hired to feed pigs for R1400 a month. The work was tiring – those pigs never stop eating – but I was content. I lived in my own room for the first time ever, with my Chelsea football poster on the wall. On my days off, I went to the local shopping mall. I met my girlfriend there. I had freedom and food. Over time, I saved 1000 rand and bought myself the first nice item I’d ever had: a home theatre sound system. I put it in my room.

But my boss expected us to live without luxuries, low to the ground. He saw my system and grew convinced that I had stolen his pigs and profited. No matter that I had in fact saved a portion of my paycheck for months – he became increasingly paranoid.

One payday in December, my co-workers told me that the boss didn’t want to give me my money. He was drunk, and it was his birthday. They said that he had been muttering, “I’m turning 50 today, so I can kill Moses without consequence.” But this behaviour was normal: Every payday, he got drunk and yelled. We ignored his fits; we thought he was harmless.

I did not think he’d really hurt me.

I knocked on his door late in the afternoon. He answered — his shirt off, his eyes wild.

“You’re taking me for a fool,” he said, and walked away.

I figured he was getting my money, but when he returned, he was holding a pistol.

He was a giant of a man; before I could flee, he grabbed me. I slipped away and began to run. I heard one shot ring out and kept going. Then I reached a barbed wire fence that I couldn’t cross. Another shot sounded out and I felt a ball of fire enter my TK leg just above my ankle. I looked down; blood trailed behind me. My leg gave out. I began to crawl, pulling myself beneath the fence. I soon felt weak. I crawled into the leaves behind a fallen tree and passed out.

An hour later, I woke to the sounds of my boss’ car roaming the property. I couldn’t breathe. Once he passed, I waved my hands until my co-workers, in the distance, noticed me and crept over with food and a jacket. I asked them to call my close friend who lived in town; I knew he would help me. Then I lay in the brush. I did not lose hope. I did not think too much.

My friend, afraid of also being shot, brought the police. He had been denied help at one police station and sent to another, so the ambulance and officers arrived in the evening. The paramedics found me in the leaves, dressed the wound, and took me in the ambulance to the boss’ house. There, the police took a statement.

“He stole our pigs,” the boss’ wife said.

The police asked me if it was true. I could only deny it.

For 46 days, I was shuffled between different hospitals. Skin from my thigh was grafted to my blown-open calf. The pain was unrelenting.

My boss was arrested for a single night and then released. His life resumed, as far as I know.

Once I could move on my own, I found work feeding sheep, but I my calf ached when I walked. So I picked up odd jobs, cutting grapes and cleaning. But what once was simple is now agonizing. I cannot stand or walk long distances. In my dreams, I would have liked to be a doctor. Now, I wish that I could simply learn to drive and get a license so that I could operate a taxi. But lessons and tests cost money, and I only make enough to buy food. When I can, I stand by the robots in the mornings, hoping to be picked up for labour.

Every day, I think of this farmer who shot me, living as though nothing has happened. I was scared to go to the police because I have no passport and know little about the law. But a friend told me about PASSOP, and I came here. Together, we’re working on my case, bit by bit. The authorities are slow and dismiss me, but I am patient. I want justice. I must believe that I will get justice.

If you want to help Moses, please contact us at or (0027) 021 7620322.

(Moses’s story was written by PASSOP volunteer Justine van der Leun. )

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