top of page

Death on the border

Carlos Ndlalane, a Mozambican refugee, was shot dead by SADF soldiers as he crossed the border into Ka-Ngwane…

Two months ago, Carlos Ndlalane and his family were just like many other Mozambican families — they were poor and they lived in fear of their lives. Their home was a small village called Mglavula in the south of Mozambique, where Carlos kept cattle.

Renamo bandits often attacked their village. Many of their friends and neighbours were killed in these attacks.

Renamo destroyed the crops, burnt houses, stole cattle and kidnapped people to help them carry the things they stole. Carlos and his family decided to move to a larger town also in the south near the border— Moamba. He thought they would be safer there, because there were more government soldiers. Carlos was wrong. Moamba was often attacked too.

So the family decided to leave their country and go to South Africa. Carlos sold some cattle, and paid for a guide to take them to the border. They decided that Carlos’ wife and the old women in the family should go first. Carlos went with them.


Carlos and the women walked to the South African border. They climbed over the barbed wire fence and came to the next fence — the electric fence.

The electric fence that separates Mozambique from South Africa holds many dangers for the Mozambican refugees. The electric current is powerful — 3500 volts. People die, or suffer terrible injuries, if they touch it. The guides know plenty of tricks to get under it or over it.

But getting over the electric fence does not mean safety. There is still the danger of the South African army waiting on the other side and ready to send the refugees back across the border if they catch them.

Carlos and the women managed to crawl under the fence and cross to safety. At the Mangweni transit camp for refugees, about ten kilometres from the border, and run by the Catholic Church, they found Ma Rachel Msimbini. Ma Rachel looks looks after the refugees when they arrive.

They were given blankets, clothes, and mealie-meal. David Msimbine, the chairman of the Refugees’ Committee in the camp, found them a piece of land where they could put up a tent and start to build their own kraal.

Carlos was pleased with this good start to a new life. The women had somewhere to sleep. They had food, and they were warm. There were clinics, with doctors and nurses. They had a permit to stay in Ka-Ngwane, and the South African soldiers could not take them back to Mozambique. Better still, they were safe from Renamo.

But Carlos was not happy yet. Other members of the family were still in danger. After two days he started on the long walk back to Moamba, knowing that each time he crossed the border his life was in danger.


While Carlos was in South Africa, Renamo attacked Moamba again. They were looking for a special kind of house — houses where the ‘majonjone’ (Mozambican miners in South Africa) store the things they buy in South Africa. Carlos’ daughter, Angelica Ndlalane, was looking after one of these houses.

“When the Renamo bandits came, they shot my husband in the arm,” Angelica told Learn and Teach. “They caught me, and made me carry the things that were in the house. I walked for three days to the Renamo base. In those three days they raped me many times — especially the leader of the group.

“Near the base there was a Frelimo patrol. When the shooting started I escaped. I spent the whole night looking for a village. In the end, a car took me back to Moamba.”

Soon after this, Carlos arrived back home. He listened to Angelica’s story, and decided to take her immediately to South Africa. He sold more cattle, and took Angelica and her baby across the fence to South Africa. Angelica’s husband stayed behind in a hospital in Maputo.


Carlos took Angelica and her child to the camp in Ka-Ngwane. Again he was pleased with his work, but he knew that he could not waste any time — his sons and stepson were still in Mozambique. At the transit camp he asked for another tent. David Msimbine remembers this day well.

“I told him that we had a tent, but that there was no transport to bring it back,” says David. “Carlos said he didn’t mind” — he would carry the tent himself. He put the heavy tent on his back and walked ten kilometres to his family.”

That same evening, Carlos left for Mozambique. This time there was another tragedy waiting for him: one of his sons had been killed when Renamo attacked a train near Ressano Garcia.

Silvestre Ndlalane and Julio Senguane, Carlos’ son and stepson, were happy to see their father arrive back safely. “We were anxious to leave,” Julio told Learn and Teach, “especially after the death of our brother. We were looking forward to going to South Africa. But we had to wait for a week until my father found the R600 to pay for a guide for the three of us.”


Father and sons set off on the long walk to the border. This was to be the fifth time Carlos would cross the electric fence. But this time he met the SADF.

Silvestre Ndlalane told us how they crossed the fence: “We’d walked the day before from Moamba, and then spent the night in the bush. The guide left us for a while to plan the crossing. Six of us crossed under the electric fence at midday. Then we crossed the barbed wire fence.

“Suddenly I heard three gun shots. I dropped my bag and ran. I climbed the nearest tree and waited. When I looked back, my father was dead. A group of soldiers appeared. I saw them give Julio some chocolates. I stayed in the bush for two days, and then came to Mangweni.”

Julio told us how he saw his father die: “I was almost over the last barbed wire fence when they fired. The first shot hit my father in the neck. The second shot was aimed at me. I fell to the ground and lay completely still, so I don’t know where the third shot went. When the soldiers came, they thought I was dead.”

The soldiers called the police to take away the body, thinking perhaps that this would be just another forgotten victim of the border.

But the policemen who came were Ka- Ngwane police. The first thing they did was to take the name of the SADF soldier who fired the shot which killed Carlos. Then they took the number of his gun. Now a murder docket has been opened.

Human rights lawyers say that the SADF has gone against international law, because they did not shout a warning or fire a warning shot before Carlos Ndlalane was killed.


Carlos Ndlalane’s funeral was held a week later at the kraal where most of his family now lives. Hundreds of refugees and local people came together to mourn his death.

Carlos’ wife sat apart from the others. She sat on the ground, next to the tent that Carlos had carried the day she saw him for the last time. When friends and relatives came to give her comfort, she held the canvas of the tent in her hand and cried.

“We express our horror at this completely mindless and unnecessary deed,” said Dr Mark Berry, head of the Shongwe Mission Hospital, when he spoke to the mourners. “We will do what we can to make sure that the deed is punished in the courts of law, such as they are in South Africa.”

The burial service was led by the Reverend Ndlangamandla, of the Lowveld Council of Churches. At the end of the service, Carlos’ belongings were placed on the grave: a pair of boots, a pair of sandals, a washbasin and a tube of toothpaste.


Dr Berry offered a ray of hope to the hundreds of refugees at the funeral. “It is difficult not to appreciate the anguish that you experience here every day,” he said. “But we want you to know that you are our brothers and sisters, and that you are welcome here in Ka- Ngwane.”

Another ray of hope came from the South African Council of Churches and the South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, who organised a protest meeting at the electric fence last month. “There are many voiceless refugees who are seeking peace, safety and shelter,” they said. “We look upon them as brothers and sisters in need. We earnestly request that the electric fence be switched off permanently, and that the shootings should stop.”

Perhaps one day this will happen. Perhaps the fence will be switched off. Perhaps the SADF will stop shooting unarmed refugees. But it will be too late for Carlos Ndlalane, who worked so hard to give his family a new home, and died when he was only seconds away from a new life.

NEW WORDS mourn — the sadness you feel when somebody you care for dies transit camp — a place that refugees go to before they make a new life in the villages a deed — an action anguish — great suffering or pain


If you would like to print or save this article as a PDF, press ctrl + p on your keyboard (cmd + p on mac).

bottom of page