Tendai Davis, 43, is a Zimbabwean who believes has seen it all in life, mostly the harshness of poverty. We caught up with him on the busy streets of Port Elizabeth, doing what he usually does day-in, day-out asking for loose change (coins) that we pay no attention to. The exchange started off with providing something to eat and a soft drink, to allow Mr Davis to fully recall all his past endeavors, and how life has been of the streets of South Africa.
Anele Jonga: Please tell us who Tendai Davis is.
Tendai Davies: Tendai was born in Zimbabwe, 1978. I lived in a village called Mutare with my foster parents, Amara and William. I am the only male child in the family, my foster parents could not have a boy child, I was adopted. I never attended school; I was not allowed to go to school. I started working on the farm at the early stages of my life, I’m a farmer.
AJ: Tell us more how life growing up in Mutare was?
TD: Growing up was never easy for me, I was never the golden child. I was treated like a foreigner in a house that was supposed to be a home. The parents had three girls younger than me by almost a year, but I was a slave to them. I cleaned after them, washed even their underwear, I couldn’t complain, how dare I.
I never talked back or even looked the Mrs on the eyes, I was the “Do-er” of every little request from the homeowners, down to the little Ms. I would go to the forest and hunt for birds, forest rats so I can eat meat, I was never ever given meat, too expensive they would say. At the age of 13, that was the last time I saw them.
AJ: How did you manage to cross the border at such age?
TD: I remember that day as if yesterday, I traveled for three days on foot trying to get to South Africa, it was where my dreams would come through, I thought. I was walking on the national road near the yellow line, I met many people there, some going back to Zimbabwe others going away from Zimbabwe, I was one of those going away. There was a river that we had to cross, I was never a swimmer, but I was going to die trying, I was never going back -that was what I told myself. I went in the water, walking slowly then everyone in front and behind me started swimming, I did too.
The river current was too strong, I don’t know how I made it over, but I woke up surrounded by people, water coming out my mouth, that’s how I made it to South Africa.
AJ: Tell us how living in South Africa has been?
TD: That is a very hard question to answer, but I will tell my story and hope for someone else to benefit from it. I’ve been living here for over 30 years now, life was hard, I was alone in a world away from home, I had to survive. I was introduced to selling drugs, gang fights, house robberies, everything I was there. I wanted to belong.
I was arrested for being in a possession of an illegal firearm, I was sentenced to 20 years in prison, the firearm I was holding was wanted for two counts of murder and hijacking. At that time, I was 19 years. I served my sentenced in Hillbrow, Johannesburg Maximum Prison. See these tattoos! 26 prison gang, I was gang member in prison. After I finished my time, I was sent to foreign camps, to be transferred to Zimbabwe since I was illegally staying here. After three days I escaped that camp, I wanted to run away from Joburg, I got lifts from truck driver, I arrived in Port Elizabeth.
AJ: Tell us what was your dream?
TD: The dream was to be a farmer, I dreamed of owning a huge land here in South Africa to grow crops, cattle, and every livestock. I never imagined myself falling victim to the life of criminals. I had no one to talk too, I was my only supporter. If I had the opportunity of a father figure in my life, and be nurtured at the early stage, I could have been a better person, I would like to believe.
AJ: Any last words to the little kid in Zimbabwe now wanting to come for a better life in S.A.
TD: There is nothing wrong about wanting a better life, but the issue starts when you must be true to yourself and to stand up for what you believe in, never let anyone decides for you how to live your life, I believe times have changed now, in both countries. There are better living conditions for all people, back then, we had to overcome xenophobia.
I would like to tell people that I may be homeless, but I am a human too, I breath, I see, and I listen just as much as we all do. When you see me at your mercy, please know R2 goings a long way.