Mwamba’s story: overcoming tremendous obstacles
PHOTOGRAPH BY SUZANNE BELLING
Pictured: Arthur and Ley
Not so with the predominantly Jewish shoppers at Chestnut Hill Shopping Centre in Raedene, Johannesburg. They are known for their generosity when coming out of the kosher butchery, the travel agent, the hairdresser, consulting rooms, the lingerie shop and the pharmacy.
All the car guards there were efficient and helpful. But one, Arthur Mwamba, always stood out, going the extra mile to accompany patrons into the shops, depositing their purchases into the boots of their cars and complimenting them on their hairstyles in a charming French accent.
It was little known initially that Arthur was a refugee from the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo and had trained there as a nurse. He came to Johannesburg defying xenophobia and requalified as a senior nurse after he was told he could not be employed unless he redid his theory and practical exams in English and met South African medical standards.
His wife, Joy, whom he met in college, is also a nursing sister and is in the process of doing her final exams here in South Africa.
In the beginning, she earned money by sewing and he relied on the tips and odd jobs given to him by shoppers in Chestnut Hill. He had to “book” his place as a car guard and give part of his earnings to a fellow guard who “owned” the spot.
Gradually, the Chestnut Hill shoppers learnt of Arthur’s aspirations and started a collection to enable him to pay the fees for his exams. He now works in a hospital, sometimes recognising his former shoppers when they come in as patients.
Asking Arthur why he had moved from his Lubumbashi home in the south of the DRC to the war-torn east of that country, he said he was part of Médicins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) which had transferred him there.
After coming to South Africa, “I had to overcome many difficulties, including language, accommodation and security. I have been here since June 2006 to join Joy, who arrived in January of that year.
“I worked handing out pamphlets on street corners, welcoming people into a store and did the odd driving jobs. It was mainly the Jewish people I met who gave me work; I owe them a debt of gratitude. There were a lot of challenges to overcome,” he remarked wistfully.
After first living in questionable areas, the Mwamba family was able to move into a pleasant apartment near King Edward Primary School where the boys are enrolled.
He has never forgotten the people of Chestnut Hill and even featured in a broadcast on ChaiFM to tell his story – overcoming tremendous obstacles and believing that ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’.