Samma Kazembe was going about his business on Saturday October 4 this year in Pretoria, South Africa where he is based. Like any normal day he decided to visit one of the liquor shops within his vicinity to purchase a few drinks.
It is here where another Malawian working as a liquor shop attendant broke news of what would later be described as unity of purpose among diaspora community to rescue a fellow Malawian who was living on the street in the city.
“Do you know this mentally ill guy from Malawi who lives on the nearby street here?” the Malawian liquor shop attendant asked him. “I was shocked when I went to see the ‘mad man’ I was able to him in our vernacular language. I also gave him some money to buy food,” narrates Kazembe, who started the rescue efforts for Sebastian Kalanje.
Kalanje, popularly known as Seba, was mentally and psychologically traumatised and lived under a tree in the city. Kazembe says he learnt that Kalanje, 34, lost both parents and comes from Malawi in Traditional Authority Mpama’s area in Chiradzulu District.
Like most immigrants, the young man trekked to South Africa in search of pastures new. Unfortunately, he ended up on the streets in Pretoria has been living on alms. But as bad luck would have it, the stress of living off the streets affected his mental health.
“He was begging for food and clothes and sleeping on the cold floor on the city streets. This kind of life took a toll on his mental capacity so he lost it,” says Kazembe.
Power of social media
Immediately after Kalanje was discovered Kazembe captured his plight in a video that went viral within hours on the Internet. It is through the video that a chat group of well-wishers was created to assist and rescue Kalanje from his predicament.
Within a week a decision was made to take Kalanje for medical help, before assisting him to return to Malawi and unite him with his family. Moral support was drummed up to establish support structures in South Africa, United Kingdom and Malawi to help raise funds for his upkeep, while receiving treatment in a SA hospital.
Other social media spaces also helped spread the news of Kalanje’s ordeal. This resulted in more well wishers registering interest both in the Diaspora and locally, to assist the youthful Kalanje, who had become frail from the suffering.
In a Johannesburg hospital
Kalanje was taken to hospital to get medical attention and psycho-social and was admitted to a hospital for weeks. Members of the support group based in Johannesburg paid him daily visits, according to one of the members of the group, Sydney Katunga.
He says: “An ad hoc team of support members comprising myself, Samma Kazembe, Patrick Gawa, Patrick Nyirenda, Noel Msusa and Matshidiso Liomba was immediately set up. It was tasked with the responsibility to oversee issues of welfare for Kalanje who didn’t have a relative here.”
Other Malawians living in the United Kingdom moved in quickly to mobilise more support for Kalanje. Oscar Mhango led the cause as coordinator in UK. Locally in Malawi another group led by Reverend Reuben Malundu was also set up, while in Zambia Rachel Mhango drummed up the support for Kalanje.
Support from classmates
After hearing news of how their former school mate was suffering Mzuzu’s Viphya Pvt School class of 2000 came together to also support him financially. This initiative was championed by Aaron Mwansambo, an alumnus of the school.
Viphya alumni cohort of 2000 managed to raise K117 600 in support of Kalanje. This cemented the saying that there is “power in unity.”
News of Kalanje being unwell in a foreign territory also reached his legislator Joseph Nomale, parliamentarian for Chiradzulu East. The parliamentarian donated—through Daniel Chikoja—2 000 rand for the cause.
Kalanje was discharged from a Johannesburg hospital last Saturday on December 5, 2020 and was taken by one of the SA group members Patrick Nyirenda to his home. He was expected to start off for Malawi last Wednesday.
“He will have to be escorted back home. One of the members of the group Msusa agreed to travel with him by bus back to Malawi,” says Katunga.
Katunga explains that he contacted International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to explore the possibility of assisting Kalanje with air transport. “They [IOM] always assist in ‘repatriation’ of stranded foreign nationals like Malawians. Although we know it’s a different case altogether. I thought reaching out to IOM would be a good idea.
“I personally contacted the Resident Regional Representative—Lily Sanyo, who now is looking forward to assist us,” he explains.
Smiles at long last
A member of the Malawi mission in SA was all smiles when asked about the rescue, medical help and repatriation of Kalanje.
“We are very thankful to see Malawians in diaspora coming up together, mobilise financial resources and facilitating Kalanje’s medical treatment and repatriation back to home.
“Malawians have indeed demonstrated their unity and love in the whole process of repatriation, and Malawi Mission has facilitated his paperwork,” says George Chilonga, a desk officer at the Malawi Mission in Pretoria.
A relation of Kalanje, Kelita Msiska is all smiles. Msiska, who is also from Chiradzulu but living in Chiwanja Township, said Seba first moved to South Africa around 2003 and the family thought they had lost him.
“Malawians in Diaspora didn’t know him. They just found him on the street, but they took the responsibility to support him to the extent of taking him to the hospital as one of their own.
“This is really a good gesture and as a family, we are thankful to all these people,” Msiska.