A few days ago, I received this WhatsApp message from one of my neighbours in our small townhouse complex, “Fanuel is back and looking totally emaciated. Please would you be able to pop some money in an envelope and drop at # 8 or #9. No name. Whatever you can spare. It is the season of giving.” A few minutes later, this response arrived from Unit #7, “I have given him groceries, cooked food and a little cash already.”
Who is this Fanuel and why does he evoke such caring responses? We live in a small townhouse complex of 18 units. There are two gardeners hired by the complex—both come from the same village in Zimbabwe, east of Bulawayo, and are, in fact, cousins. They are from the Ndebele tribe and the elder of the two, Cephas has been living in Joburg for 34 years, well before democracy. I suspect that Cephas left the country because of Mugabe’s massacre of about 20,000 Ndebele from 1983-87 although he has never said as much.
But in a country with 90% unemployment currently, one can see why millions of Zimbabweans live and work in South Africa, sending money home to support their families.
Back to Fanuel. Like most people from Zim, they are lucky of they can get home once a year to see their spouses and families. Fanuel was very excited when I spoke with him in July as he was heading home for the month of August when his children were on their annual school holiday. His departure was delayed for two weeks when one of his other gardening clients headed off on her own holiday, neglecting to pay Fanuel prior to her departure. He waited for two weeks for her return to get paid so he could start the long journey home by bus. A month passed and he did not return. More weeks went by and no Fanuel. Cephas told me that while in Zim, Fanuel discovered that some of their cattle had been stolen. Cattle is one’s wealth in countries like Zimbabwe and Botswana and Fanuel could not return without trying to track down the stolen beasts.
Fanuel was away so long that another gardener, Soft (yes, that’s his real name) from Malawi was hired. I understood that we could wait no longer but felt badly for Fanuel, a lovely guy who resembles a young Thabo Mbeki. Then I heard from Cephus that Fanuel was returning just prior to Cephus departing for Zim to spend Christmas with his family. I saw him for the first time and was struck by just how thin he was, yet when I asked about his wife and family, he broke out a huge smile and told me told me how well they all were doing and how great it had been to spend time with them again.
This is a Christmas story after all and it does have the happy ending with all of us stepping up to help Fanuel get back on his feet. The residents of our complex are a wonderful mix of races and religions and it does remind one that there is kindness here in the wealthiest part of Africa where people are often aggressive, full of entitlement and prone to flash their wealth.
And, to end on the happiest of notes, Fanuel did find his cattle and got his job back. It all just took a little longer than he had hoped.