For a long time, people in South Africa have waited for rain. The land is dry and cracked. People cannot grow anything. And their animals are dying a slow, painful death.
At the end of January, the people in Natal, Swaziland and Mozambique got rain. It came and came and came. It didn’t stop.
Strong winds and heavy rain hit the dry land. Soon the rivers were too full. Water flooded the land and many people died.
Many people lost their houses. Roads and bridges were broken. The people lost nearly everything before the rain. But after the rain, they had nothing left.
Philemon Myeni comes from the part of Natal that was hit by the storm. He was not there when the rain came. But his family was there.
Philemon has not heard from his family. He is very worried. He waits and waits. The days pass slowly and painfully. He told us his story:
“l was born in the village of Bhamganoma near Mkuze. It is a country place and the land is good. We keep animals. We plough along the Mkuze river. We grow mealies, corn, small beans and mbumba. The river is fu II of fish and good for swimming.
A few years ago I fell in love. wanted to marry Elizabeth. I needed R 120 for lobola. So I worked in a bakery in Mkuze for R40 a month. I paid the lobola after a few months.
“I lived in Bhamganoma with my wife Elizabeth Ntombithini and our children. Their names are Bhekuyise, Tholakele, Ndukuzakhe. My grandmother, my mother and my sisters also live there. And so do my two brothers, Joseph and Elias.
There is no money in Bhamganoma . So some of the family must go and work in the cities. Joseph and Elias went to work in the city.
But then Elias lost his job. The family had a meeting. “Elias has worked hard for a long time in the city,” they said. “It is time for him to come home and be with us again.” Now it was my turn to get a job in the city. I had to leave my new wife.
I felt strange. I was frightened and also excited. And for the first time in my life, I felt lonely. The time went as fast as a Putco bus. Too soon it was the day for me to leave.
My wife and children came to say goodbye. They were happy because I was going to fetch money. They smiled and waved. That was the last time I saw them.
I came to Durban and got a place in the Kwa-Mashu hostel. My brother Joseph and other friends were there. I got a job at the animal hospital. That’s a place that looks after sick animals.
They paid me R 100 a month. I sent R40 a month home. I felt happy and proud. My job was to clean the offices for the whites. I also made them tea and fed the animals.
I missed my family. And I didn’t like sharing a small room with four other men. But I was not unhappy. Sometimes we went and watched soccer on Saturdays.
Sometimes we went to the city. We walked the streets and looked In shop windows.
Slowly I was learning the ways of the city. Sometimes people from our village came to the hostel. They brought the news. When people went home, I gave them money for the family. We do not use letters. We cannot write.
One night in January this year my whole life changed. I was sitting in the room at the hostel. All five of us were there. We were talking and cooking. The radio was playing. I was fixing my shoes. Suddenly I heard over the radio the name of our village – Bhamganoma. My hands stopped working. Everybody stopped talking.
The voice from the radio said a storm hit our village. The voice said people died in our village. I could not speak. My body was hot, then cold. Then I knew I must go home.
I went to work the next morning. I went to see my boss. We call him “Zibukwane”. This means “Spectacles” in English. I told him what happened at Bhamganoma. I told him I was scared that my family was dead.
“Spectacles” got angry when he heard my troubles. Maybe he could not understand because my English is not so good. “It’s nothing to do with us,” he said. “I don’t really care. If you want to leave, then leave. But don’t come back.”
Then Spectacles paid me R30 and told me to go away. I asked for my blue card. I did not get it. I asked for my notice pay. I did not get it.
I stood there looking at Spectacles. He looks after animals. But he doesn’t want to look after people. Maybe he only likes animals. Then I walked away from him.
We hired a car with the R30. We took messages and money from many people. We travelled north to Bhamganoma. The roads were full of dirt and stones. Sometimes we had to move broken trees out of the road.
When we got to the Umfolozi river, we stopped and looked. The bridge over the river was broken. We just sat there in the car. We looked at the broken bridge. And we watched the brown, muddy water of the Umfolozi.
Nobody spoke. We knew we could not get home. Then we slowly turned the car around. We drove back to the Kwa-Mashu hostel.
I heard that all the bridges were broken. People from the village could not bring any news about my family. I felt helpless and alone.
For the first time, I wished I knew how to read and write. I wanted to send a letter home. And I wished someone at home could write to me.
I had no money left. I could not pay the hostel rent. So I left the hostel. I went to stay with a friend.
My troubles made me feel sick. I walked to the city. I did not know what to do. I just started talking to strangers. Then I spoke to a middle aged woman. I told her how I got fired. And I told her about my problems at home.
This woman listened. Then she said she could help. She told me of an organization that helps workers. She said the organization could help me.
I went to this place. It is called the African Workers Association. They took me to a lawyer. The lawyer listened to my story and sent a letter to the animal hospital. So now I wait to hear from the lawyer.
I have not gone home yet. People say that all of my family are dead.
But I do not know. At night I dream of angels and brown water. Maybe the angels are my children. As soon as I have enough money, I will go home. I haven’t seen my wife for two years. I must know If she is alive or dead. I want to go home.”