‘Street child’ who immortalised his story

The Herald

Elliot Ziwira Senior Writer
There is something about African names; they have a way of revealing what the future holds.

As his middle name suggests, Basilio Pemberai Musonza was born to celebrate, or be celebrated.

Although his birth did not bring much joy as the Musonzas claimed that their relative, Pemberai’s father, could not have sired him, his mother nevertheless promised her son more than heaven.

The Musonzas’ argued that his father was mentally challenged and could not have been involved in a love relationship and as a result Pemberai did not attend regular classes.

As fate would have it when he was six years old, Pemberai’s mother and younger sister Chiedza died within two months of each other in 2001.

His maternal uncle, who was a teacher, and his wife took him under their wing in Dzivarasekwa, Harare, where life briefly changed for the better.

Before the year ended, the aunt died, and his uncle breathed his last three months later in March 2002.

Thus, the long torturous journey began for young Pemberai.

Pemberai’s voyage of resilience, determination and hard knocks is a nerve-wrecking one that he compellingly immortalises in a book, “Out of the dark gates” (2020) which is set to be launched today at Karigamombe Centre in Harare.

How Pemberai got behind the dark gates, and how he eventually makes the decision to walk out, is what defines winners and losers in a society that gives no medals for second best.

“Without knowing what the future held for me, I first felt the warmth of my mother’s arms the day I was born, May 23, 1995,” Pemberai began his story.

“For six years I stayed with my mom in the Jo’burg lines of Mbare, Harare, in a three-bedroomed house that was previously owned by my grandparents.

“Life with my mom was great, and though she wasn’t employed, she tried her best to make me smile. I remember the last birthday party she held for me; oh what a great day that was!”

As if that wasn’t enough, Pemberai’s mother’s brother, the second in their family, took possession of their parents’ house, compelling his mother to move into a single-roomed cabin in the backyard.

Death of his mother, sister, aunt and uncle, saw Pemberai moving in with his mother’s sister in Mabvuku, Harare, and within a year, she took him to his father’s clan to save her marriage as she constantly clashed with her husband regarding his welfare.

By then, Pemberai was seven.

Now at his rural home in Seke, Pemberai recalls how his relations with his father and stepmother were strained.

His relatives were still adamant that he was not one of their own.

Matters came to a head when in a fit of rage, his father axed him in the head, declaring that he was not his son.

It is a journey that saw him living in the jungles of Zhakata Village in Seke for 14 months, and subsequently the streets of Harare for 12 years, during which time he sat for Zimsec Grade Seven and Ordinary Level examinations without going through formal education.

In the year he was supposed to sit for his Advanced Level examinations, Pemberai got a scholarship to study international relations at Cyprus International University in Northern Cyprus, but was deported in his second year.

He returned to the streets.

Pemberai intimates in an interview with The Saturday Herald Lifestyle:

“I decided to leave home, and headed for the forests nearby where I stayed for 14 months. I survived on breaking into villagers and teachers’ houses and shops at Zhakata Business Centre.

“I became a burglar at an early stage in life, not by choice, but circumstances. I would wait for teachers to leave for classes and break into their houses in search of food. I was not always luck, as sometimes I would get caught, and faced the wrath of villagers who beat me up.”

Unable to endure it anymore, Pemberai took the great trek to Harare on foot, in search of better alms.

He was barely eight.

“My first port of call was the National Railways of Zimbabwe station along Kenneth Kaunda Avenue,” he revealed.

“On the first night I was roughed up, and robbed by older street children who stripped me naked.”

Pemberai soon realised that the city jungle was inimitable, especially to a villager like him.

He knew that for him to make it he had to match the city’s ruthlessness pound for pound in his small way.

After eight months of precarious nights in the drains that open up at the NRZ traffic lights along Kenneth Kaunda Avenue, Pemberai sought a new hunting ground at Five Avenues Shopping Centre which became his home for the next 11 years.

Takawira Chinembiri, who has been a vendor at the shopping centre since 2001, recalls how he met the now 25-year-old Women’s University’s student around 2004/2005.

“There was something about Pembe, which drew everyone to him,” said Chinembiri.

“He never took drugs like most children living on the streets. He was always talking about school and bettering himself. There was an organisation around here (Streets Ahead) that encouraged street children to go to school.

“Most of the children dropped out, but Pembe remained persistent. Even when he got a scholarship to study in Cyprus, he came here to inform us.

“Recently he was in Malaysia, where he represented Zimbabwe. He would show us his stamped passport to prove it, since some of us were sceptical.

“He is an inspirational wonder. It is difficult to tame the streets like he did. The streets are unrelenting. Once you are in you cannot leave them. We have seen other street children dying before the age of 23.”

Another vendor, Fanuel Makombe (33), who also once lived in the streets with Pemberai weighed in, saying he admired his patience and tenacity.

When The Saturday Herald Lifestyle moved around with him, Pemberai was mobbed and hugged by his fellow friends from the streets.

To them he is an inspiration, a protector and a hero. One of them, Innocent Gwiriri, could not help the emotions that flooded his heart, as he could not let go of his friend clad in a black suit, grey tie and fashionable face mask.  It was such an infectious moment.

Another friend, Brian Chihota (25), who could have made it to Spain on the strength of his soccer skills had it not been for the persistent demons that pursue him, reminisced on how he and Pemberai fought in each other’s corner over the years. Pemberai would

They even went to Chambuta Refugee Camp in Chiredzi in 2013 together to attend secondary school, but Brian didn’t last the distance. Instead of starting in Form One, Pembe enrolled for Form Three, and registered for O-Level exams in the same year. He would later leave due financial constraints.

Pam Shaw, a white lady benefactor who gives Pemberai financial, moral and emotional support, said when she resigned from her job as a remedial teacher, she met a young lady who was doing music at the House of Smiles with street children, and she asked her (Pam) for help with the children.

“I started doing art on Friday mornings at The House of Smiles,” she said.

“I also went on a couple of night outreaches with a team from the House of Smiles, including Mr Bernard Zuva and a young man named Darlington who used to live on the streets and has since passed away.

“Art provided a creative space where we could meet as equals and I enjoyed spending time with the young people. Pemberai used to stop in on Fridays and I used to chat to him. Although he wasn’t really interested in the art, one day he handed me two poems he had written about the death of his mother and sister. He was very keen to try and go back to school.

“Along with a few others, he attended a school in Dzivarasekwa and a lady by the name of Tatenda was helping them. Eventually she was unable to continue helping Pemberai.

“I lost touch with Pemberai for a while until he told me he had passed his O-Levels and wanted to sit for his A-Levels.

“He ended up going to People’s College in Harare in 2016. Before sitting for his A-Levels he got to opportunity to go to Cyprus International University.”

Pam said Pemberai ended up facing tough times as the support he expected did not materialise, which he said led him to suicidal tendencies.

“He had always expressed a desire to help other children on the streets and is now studying Social Welfare at The Women’s University,” she said.

“He wanted to be a voice for street children. He was in the public speaking team at People’s College and earlier this year spoke at the Youth Conference in Malaysia.”

Mr Zuva, an outreach worker and contact person for kids at the now defunct Streets Ahead, and founder of Child Welfare and Protection Services Zimbabwe (CWPS), who had known Pemberai since he was eight, expressed the same sentiments.

He said Pembe always exuded confidence and potential to make a name for himself as he was destined for a greater calling.

As the Chinese always say: ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step’, Pemberai’s dream of becoming the voice of the vulnerable is almost complete.

For now Basilio Pemberai Musonza can certainly ‘celebrate’, for indeed he is “Out of the dark Gates”.

The Herald