I asked Mdalaga Mrisho, or Amdy as he is better known in Cape Town, to come to my house today to repair the faulty electric wiring in my lounge. What I expected by the end of his visit was a fully functioning well-lit lounge/kitchen area. What I didn’t expect was to be on the receiving end of his incredible life story.
While his Zimbabwean employee began to perform his magic on my faulty light switch, Burundian born Amdy sat down opposite me and we began to chat. He started by talking about how hard it is for a black home repairs company owner to earn the trust and respect of South African home owners. Soon we’d moved on to discussing the legacy of Apardheid and slowly, quietly his own story weaved its way into the hot sticky air.
About 25 years ago, a 9 year old Mdalaga was playing soccer with his friends on the banks of Lake Tanganyika when he heard the unmistakable sounds of gunshots. Running back to his home he found his mother lying on the floor in a pool of blood. She appeared to be suffocating and was unable to speak. She was all he had in the world and before he knew it, she was gone.
He was forced to flee Burundi with the remaining villagers and walked for days in the baking sun until reaching the Democratic Republic of Congo. There he managed to find refuge and relative peace for a few days before being captured by the rebel army and being forced to become a child soldier. Too little to do any actual killing he was used to carry supplies and often also the bodies of injured and fallen soldiers. He and his fellow child soldiers tried to run away a number of times and on the third occasion they were caught, the men in charge took machetes and carved out a portion of flesh from their lower lips. They were told that the next time they tried to run away they would be killed. “We thought if we stay here we die and if we run we die, so we may as well run.”
Mdalaga and 20 or so of his fellow prisoners ran deep into the dark tropical jungle where they continued to fight for their survival. He saw his friends die of heat exhaustion, famine, snake bites. After weeks/months (time had no place in the jungle) a few of them found their way out and were rescued by Doctors without Borders and transported to Johannesburg, South Africa. After trying unsuccessfully to make a living there he moved to Cape Town. At this point in his story he reminds me that he only had Grade 2 and finding work was incredibly hard.
He started making a bit of money by doing odd jobs, a bit of gardening, car washing, anything he could find. It was in Cape Town that he shortened his name to Amdy, ‘to make it easier for people to say.’ As soon as he had enough cash, he enrolled at CPUT and did his matric, which he passed with an exemption. Shortly after he did a plumbing course and then one in electrical work.He began to find work in these fields and began to save enough money to further his studies through UNISA, where he is about to do his Masters in Psychology. What he’d really like to do is study medicine.
In the meanwhile, he has managed to gather together 11 artisans and employs them in a company called MD Home Repairs – Professional Renovations. They do tiling (currently tiling The Bay Hotel, Camps Bay); painting; paving; roof cleaning; electrical work; plumbing and more. When I asked him if he felt that he had endured all he has for a particular reason he responded by saying, “At first I didn’t believe, but then as I grew I started to believe and now I want to be able to change people’s lives. If I can make a difference in just a few people’s lives it will be worth it.”
I am typing this in the golden glow of the lights fixed by MD Home Repairs and feeling incredibly honoured to have met this phenomenal young man (he is the one in the left of the pic.)
Amdy, I salute you!