This Is Africa 

1. Border jump

“My name is Dumisane and I’m from Zimbabwe. The first time I came to South Africa I jumped the border. I caught a ride from Harare to Beitbridge and I walked into the forest. I walked for nearly two days and slept on the ground. There are robbers that wait there for people like me, but I was alone and they could see that I had nothing. I wasn’t afraid.”

“At the border there are two fences. One is electric. I climbed it using sticks. I jumped that fence like a baboon! Then I walked to Musina and caught a bus. If you pay the driver R500 he bribes the police so nobody checks your papers. In Polokwane I called my uncle in Cape Town and asked him to send money. He works at that Eastern Food Bazaar. There’s a lot of Zimbabweans working there.”

“Before we left, people told us South Africa was a nice place, that there were lots of jobs. But it’s difficult finding work without papers. In the location (township) people treat us badly. We don’t feel safe. But it’s better here than home.”

2. Luck & masks

“My name is Ndiaga. I came to South Africa from Senegal in 1997. I saw that South Africa was a new country (after apartheid) and I loved it, so I applied for a visa. I didn’t cross any border; I flew. I lived in Johannesburg first and I lost a lot of brothers. Some in robberies, some found dead in their houses, some killed on the street. Around 15 Senegalese people. I came to Cape Town after that and applied for papers. I got my papers. I’m a lucky man.”

3. Wanted

“My name is Gill, I’m from DRC, and I’ve been here more than 14 years. I left for political reasons. It was difficult for me to get out. I worked as a human resources manager in the Department of Tourism and I organised a strike. Some of my friends were killed. I was a wanted man. To get out the country I dressed as a woman, wearing a wig and gloves. I used a passport in somebody else’s name.”

“I first travelled to Rwanda. From Rwanda I took a car to Sudan. From Sudan I went to the Central African Republic, then I took a ship down the river to Congo Brazzaville. When I arrived in Congo Brazzaville my family sent somebody across with money, and I caught a plane to Namibia. From Namibia I caught a bus.”

“I was travelling for a few months. It was hard; it was tough. But God helped me.”

4. Stowaway

“I’m Freddy from Dar-es-Salaam. I left home three years ago when I decided to catch a ship to Europe. Three times I’ve caught ships and gone home. First time to Namibia, second time to Nigeria, third time to Durban.”

“You jump the fence at the port, climb onto a ship, and hide. You take dates, biscuits and water. At sea you come out to show them you’re there. They call the captain and take you to meet him. The first time the captain was from Denmark. I sat and talked with him. He said everything would be okay. In Namibia he called the agents and they came to fetch me in a small boat. They gave me money and I flew to Joburg, then they gave me more money so I could go home. I took that money to my mother. Then I went to the port again.”

“It’s difficult to get money in South Africa. I push trolleys from the market, ten rand each time. I use the money to buy food with my friends. We donate whatever money we have, and we share.”

“I’m still trying to get to Europe. I’ll catch another ship. Every day I try my luck but nothing has happened yet. You go and try but the guards see you and chase you away. I tried yesterday night but didn’t even jump the fence. Security that side doesn’t sleep.”

5. Car, boat, truck

“My name is Ali Mohammad. I’m from Somalia and I’ve been here for almost five years. My journey took five months.”

“From Somalia we went to Kenya by car. You pay someone 300 dollars to arrange transport. The drive takes three days. From Kenya we took a boat to Mozambique for another 600 dollars. The boat is not comfortable. You suffer and you don’t have much space. It’s overcrowded, like 80 people, and the boat is small. If you get a place you can’t move, so you just stay there.”

“We were on the boat for seven days. They cooked us fish but we couldn’t eat, so we just drank water. There’s no toilet: you must go off the sides. You sleep sitting up. There’s no roof and you’re in the open. It’s very difficult.”

“We were in Mozambique for three months. First we were in prison because soldiers caught us on the boat. They wanted to send us back home, but luckily the United Nations came and took us to a camp in Maputo. We escaped from that camp one by one.”

“It’s easy to come to South Africa from Maputo. We came in a truck. There were a lot of boxes inside — like, iron boxes, metal — and they hid us there. Three of my friends died. They didn’t have space to breathe. You must stay inside for three hours and then they let you out.”

“From Johannesburg I phoned some people in Cape Town. They sent me money and I caught a bus. I started working in a friend’s shop, and three years later I got my own place. Today I work for myself.”

“Somalia is violent, you know. Lots of fighting. I didn’t feel safe and I was looking for a better life. I’m still suffering in South Africa but it’s better than nothing. We were in a fighting place and now we’re in a safe place. That’s all we were looking for.”

(Ali Mohammad declined to have his picture taken.  All photographs © Kimon de Greef. Title photograph via Wikimedia Commons.)