On 27 May 2009, Mr Frank Tapiwa Ncube (31) was caught up in the wave of xenophobic attacks that rocked neighbouring South Africa when a number of foreigners were attacked while some were killed.
Eight years on, Mr Ncube still remembers the day as if the whole episode happened yesterday. There is no way he can forget what happened on the day as he is now a bilateral amputee after losing his hands, and has scars on his face and his legs were burnt when his shack was torched by a mob of South Africans who were baying for foreigners’ blood. These constantly remind him of that horrible experience.
“I am a bilateral amputee meaning I do not have both hands. I am a product of xenophobic attacks which occurred in South Africa in 2009. I got injured on 27 May in 2009. I got burnt and severely wounded as you can see that part of my face is injured. Most of my body is burnt especially my legs,” he said.
On that fateful day, Mr Ncube had just returned from work and was at his shack in Centurion.
“I do not know how they targeted people to attack. I was at home when disaster struck, the shack I lived in was burnt down.
Some of the people I stayed with were also burnt. However, some of my colleagues managed to flee and I do not know if they are alive or dead,” he said.
He went on: “The attackers forced their way into my shack. There were no greetings or anything, they had sticks and knives while some started pouring some liquid, probably petrol all over. They started beating me. I tried to fight back but I was overpowered as they were many. They took me outside and I watched one guy we stayed with being burnt to death, they put him inside car tyres and set him alight.
“I ran away after the beatings and collapsed on the streets as I was bleeding heavily. I remember waking up in an ambulance but I passed out again and I do not know what happened there. I woke up after two days and the nurses told me how I had been brought to the hospital. Some of the details they said were sketchy,” he said.
Mr Ncube said after the attack his hands were severely injured, he had bad wounds and his assailants poured acid onto the wounds. When he was hospitalised the wounds were not attended to immediately.
“I was just bandaged and a week later the wounds became septic so they began to remove the dead tissue because I had wounds that exposed my bones as the acid ate into my flesh. The doctors then tested to see if my nerves we still functional and they discovered I had no feeling at all in my hand then they amputated the right one. They tried to treat the left one a later and then they realised I had feeling only in two fingers and it was also removed,” he said.
While in hospital he underwent physiotherapy and counselling so as to prepare him for the new life without hands.
“I was given a set of hands and it didn’t take much time although I never got lessons on how to use the arms. A physiotherapist urged me to get the type of hands that I have now so that I could do various activities like writing and working because the ones that look like real hands were stylish yes but I was never going to be able do anything with them,” he said.
“It was difficult to use then initially but I have managed to learn how to write with them, I can type on a computer; I wash myself, I clean and do everything with little assistance.”
Mr Ncube said he crossed into to South Africa using a pay slip as during those days people could cross the border using pay slips if they were civil servants. At that time he had done temporary teaching.
“I came to Zimbabwe eight months after being attacked and decided to start afresh as I could no longer stay in South Africa. I was advised not to return to the area where I was attacked. I also was no longer comfortable going back there. I just had a bad feeling about it,” he said.
He said he faced a lot of challenges when he returned home because of the situation he was now in.
“I stayed for over six years on my return doing nothing. I was trying to find money to go back to school. The problem comes when trying to convince people that I can still write and get an education despite being a double amputee. People wonder if I can still function like an ordinary human being so some are reluctant to sponsor.”
Mr Ncube has been doing extra lessons so that he can re-sit for O-Level Mathematics in November this year.
He is a Secretarial Studies student at Jairos Jiri Rehabilitation Centre in Nguboyenja in Bulawayo.
“I am currently writing my National Foundation Certificate examinations in Secretarial Studies, but now for me to proceed to the next level I need to have Mathematics that is why I am doing extra lessons. Because even to be enrolled at a teacher training institution I need to have Mathematics,” he said.
To others who have suffered the same fate, Mr Ncube said they must not lose hope.
“There is hope in life; people should not just give up because of unfortunate circumstances in their lives. With education people with disabilities can reach any level resources permitting, disability should not limit you. Try to work towards your goal.”
His message to fellow Zimbabweans living in South Africa is that they should be careful, work and invest back home. Armed with the rare talent to speak seven languages, Mr Ncube hopes this will also enable him to make headways in life. He is fluent in ChiShona, siNdebele, Nambya, Tonga, Zulu, Setswana and English.
Mr Ncube was born in Hwange where he also did his primary edcation. He did his Form One and Two at Regina Mundi Secondary in Gwayi before completing his O-Levels at Milton High School in Bulawayo. He did his A-Levels at Hwange Government School before doing temporary teaching. He then moved to South Africa in 2009.
Jiri Rehabilitation Centre acting principal Mr Tafadzwa Gochayi said Mr Ncube was a well groomed student.
“He is a well behaved student; he is hardworking, focused and very intelligent. We want him to get a donor that can aid him in repairing his prosthetic hands. He needs to get a new pair as the current ones are now worn out,” he said.
Mr Gochayi appealed for assistance to help even other people enrolled at the institution.
“We need to feed our students and we have challenges in that the food rations are limited. We have adequate rice and mealie-meal but we have no relish. We need beans, chunks, cooking oil and meat if possible so that we feed these special needs students,” he said.