Johannesburg’s bus stations are packed with people from all over Africa eager to leave South Africa’s biggest city to spend the holidays with their loved ones.
Many of the travelers are Zimbabweans, some who will be spending their first-ever festive season free of the shadow of Robert Mugabe.
The former president was removed by military action about a month ago, and replaced by former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Travelers mill about, waiting for buses and trains. Two of them are husband and wife Given and Janet Duri, both 32. They shuffle in a long queue.
Given says he moved to Johannesburg from Harare nine years ago to look for work.
“I didn’t realize; I thought there’s a life in here, but … according to me I don’t see anything (good) … I need to go back, start a new life again in my place.”
Given says he’s a qualified electrician, but has only been able to find informal employment guarding cars. It’s a job he says he “hates,” because it forces him into contact with criminals.
“They come to steal the cars this side, or break in people’s car windows, stealing the goods inside the car … “Most of the time you mustn’t come closer to the car; you have to give that person a little space, so that you can run and make a call (to the police)…”
Given and Janet find their seats on the bus. The vehicle’s driver plays some modern Zimbabwean music to relax his passengers. It doesn’t work. Given explains that his parents died when he was a boy, but he’s looking forward to spending Christmas with his siblings in Harare.
“I’ve got a brother, I’ve got sisters; the sisters are married.”
He says his brother told him that not much has changed in Zimbabwe’s capital since Mugabe “disappeared,” as he puts it. So, as usual, there won’t be any luxuries around for the Duri family on Christmas Day.
“For Christmas we’ll be together. Twenty-five (25th), maybe we’ll see where we can go; we can go out, yes… and cheer… I don’t think we’ll have money for presents because it’s difficult for us.”
Given met Janet five years ago, when she was living rough in Johannesburg.
“It’s a lot of suffering here if you are a girl, let me say it like that.”
For Janet, the South African rainbow is as washed out as her husband’s jeans.
She says she’s praying that the Zimbabwean economy will improve so she’s able to move back to Harare.
Janet says she wishes she had some money at this time of the year to show her husband how much he means to her.
“Wow! I will get him a nice thing to say thanks for getting me up (and away from the streets), because I thought I was going to die here, at Joburg. It’s not easy.”
At a time when millions of people around the world are relaxing, Janet says all she wants for Christmas is work.
“Even if I can get a job that says, ‘You’re going to start on January on these dates,’ I will say that’s a great, great, great present for me.”
The bus leaves on its 16-hour plus journey to Harare. The passengers are sweating; some are already sleeping.
Janet rubs her belly. Given reads an old newspaper. He flips a page and the headline reads, ‘2018: What To Expect.’ He studies it intently.