South Africa is a new frontier for us Comboni Missionaries Sisters. We arrived in Pretoria at the end of 2010. We were at first hosted by the bishop, we moved to a community of German lay missionaries, and finally found a home in Mamelodi. Mamelodi is a large town outside Pretoria. About one million people live here, and the number increases every day. We live within the parish run by the Comboni Missionaries and we are exploring the various areas, especially Lusaka, thus called because many of the inhabitants come from Zambia. Lusaka is expanding and most of the available space on the hill has been taken already. The people of Lusaka do not have a meeting place. For the time being, we visit them and organize the Eucharistic celebration in private homes.
Our own home is in Mahube Valley, which means the place where the sun rises. We live in a small house in Khomotso Street. It is a simple dwelling, even though it is far grander than the small units and shacks people live in in the neighbouring areas. Our community is formed by two Sisters, one from Mexico and the other from Italy. We are waiting for more to come from other African countries..
When one comes to Mamelodi from Pretoria, he finds a large village with small houses, neatly built in rows. Each house is the size of a container and there is little space in between. There are no shops, no schools, no infrastructures. This is the solution the South African government has found to the numberless shanty houses that occupied the area before. Going on on the main road, one finds a vast group of informal dwellings. Thousands of people live here in dire poverty. The village has reached the hill, and climbed up to the rock face. There is still very little space where to build.
Here in South Africa, people celebrate Women’s Day on August 9th. Among the many events, this year we had a prayer meeting organized by the Anglican and Catholic Churches; we prayed against the trafficking of persons. We marched through the streets in silence, our mouth covered by a red tape, a sign of solidarity with the victims and of accusation against the silence imposed on this reality.
The trafficking of human beings is one of the most profitable and well organized businesses in South Africa. Every year, an incredible number of people – especially children and women – are kidnapped, taken elsewhere, and abused in different ways. Some are directed to the sex market, other used as cheap labour. This country has become a logistic base for the procurement and distribution of people to the markets in Europe and the Americas.
Fighting human trafficking is important for us. We participated in awareness seminars and now we coordinate groups in the parishes of Mamelodi. We also started to design how to make people aware of the problem, starting with the children who come to catechism. We know that many young people in Mamelodi disappear leaving no trace of where they went. Prevention is key to fight the human trade.
We all know about apartheid. It ended n 1994, but it is not over. We still have a journey to make to really live beyond differences. There are signs of it everywhere in Pretoria, both in society and Church. In the townships we see only black people, the whites and the new rich live in secluded neighbourhoods, behind high walls and security fences.
Apartheid is a recent past, and we need to ask ourselves what was our role in it. To many it is not easy to face the past and accept the mistakes done. Yet, learning from history would mean to see more clearly the injustices of today. It would mean speaking up against the evils in society. Our missionary commitment challenges us to believe in the possibility to fight these evils, to be forerunners of a renewed society.
In our visiting the families in Lusaka, we met Nthabiseng. She is a 27 years old single mother. Her daughter, Muxiriso, is only two. Nthabiseng ‘s niece, Regina, leaves with them because she is an orphan. One day, when we went to see them, we found the two girls staying with a neighbour; their mother was out on an errand. Another neighbour went to Nthabiseng’s shack to repair something. He simply entered; no one locks anything around here. We were touched by the solidarity and family spirit the poor share to support each other. Nthabiseng often tells us “life is tough, but God helps us”.
Clara Torres and Laura Lepori