Placide’s journey has made a full circle. Sitting in her shop in Cape Town – where she makes clothes, eats and sleeps – she speaks of the life she has established here. Meanwhile, she is preparing to go back to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – a process that has been assisted by Scalabrini’s Welfare Programme.
Memories of a life once known
Placide fled her home in DRC 11 years ago. Sitting in Brooklyn, Cape Town with her life’s possessions packed into suitcases behind her- ready to take back to DRC- Placide speaks of her journey to South Africa.
DRC is still facing ongoing conflict, which has claimed over five million lives. Placide was a nurse working in an army hospital where she came face to face with brutality. “They were killing people. That’s why I ran away to South Africa. They were looking for me to arrest me because I said the truth.”
“When I made 100 bags, I’d put them on my back and go straight to Muizenberg. I’d start on the road, selling one by one until Fishhoek or Simonstown, every Sunday. I walked, no train, no bus. I walked.”
Placide traveled from Kinshasa to Lubumbashi. Then to Zambia, Zimbabwe, Johannesburg and finally Cape Town. “Cape Town was very hard for me. You had to go to Langa to apply for asylum. You must go during the day and sleep there until tomorrow…. It took me one year to get my asylum permit.” To add to the stress of documentation, Placide’s living situation was uncomfortable. “I was living with one of my friend’s sons, but he made it very difficult for me to stay with him. I was sleeping on the floor.” When Placide suffered from a stroke, her church helped her find a room of her own. She still struggles with her health to this day.
Rebuilding a life in South Africa
A strong and persevering woman, Placide got money together to buy a sewing machine. “When I made 100 bags, I’d put them on my back and go straight to Muizenberg. I’d start on the road, selling one by one until Fishhoek or Simonstown, every Sunday. I walked, no train, no bus. I walked.”
The Welfare Programme was Placide’s first point of contact, where she received social assistance. Scalabrini then approached her to run sewing workshops for Women’s Platform. This helped bring in a more steady, less strenuous income.
“The biggest help from Scalabrini was meeting lots of people and getting work. I get more people and more customers coming to me. Then when they’re helping me like that, I opened my own small shop. When I opened my small shop here, I trained the Scalabrini ladies here.”
“I am scared to go home – it’s not peaceful. But I want to go… I have my house, I have my family. I miss them and they miss me. I am here alone, like I don’t have people. That can make me sick again.”
Making the journey home
With regards to her health, getting help in South Africa has proved difficult. This was a major factor in her decision to go home. “I decided to go home because I my health is not good – my blood pressure is high and my heart is not beating nicely.” Without family nearby, Placide worries what would happen to her if she were to fall sick. With this in mind, Placide has decided to return to her family.
The Welfare Programme was able to assist Placide with returning home. Going home does not come without reservations and fear. [It involved complex processes including the cancellation of her asylum claim in South Africa, which had to undergo careful consultation.] “I am scared to go home – it’s not peaceful. But I want to go… I have my house, I have my family. I miss them and they miss me. I am here alone, like I don’t have people. That can make me sick again.”
Arriving in DRC
Placide took off from the Cape Town International Airport on 25 November 2019. She arrived safely in DRC and was received by her family. She keeps in contact with the Welfare Team and says she has resettled happily in DRC.