Thorny background shapes humanitarian

Growing up in Harare, Elvis Anusa Masawi (27) was exposed to the harsh realities of life at a very tender age. Coming from a family with a strong agricultural background, he was made to toil in the fields during school holidays.

Elvis Masawi (left) helping women migrants cook.
Elvis Masawi (left) helping women migrants cook.

“While growing up, I saw my family embroiled in a court battle that dragged on for years, fighting for our property, which we ended up losing because our finances were so exhausted that we could not afford the legal costs,” said Masawi.

“As an inquisitive boy, I was always up to date with the court case and this placed an emotional burden on me for a long time. When I was old enough to go to court, I spent most of my free time attending many cases and my heart would bleed whenever I witnessed abuses of people’s rights. I always dreamt of becoming a lawyer, although my interests later changed to agriculture.”

This early start gave him a strong sense of responsibility and now he takes care of thousands of his unfortunate countrymen and women in neighbouring South Africa.

Masawi is the director of Voice of Millions, a non-governmental organisation that helps socially disadvantaged foreigners – mainly Zimbabweans, Somalis, Ethiopians, Mozambicans and Malawians.

Based in Polokwane, Voice of Millions is heavily involved in assisting migrants who are in danger, either by attending to the scene or i through referring the cases to other organisations or individuals who are able to handle the matter at hand effectively.

“We have assisted many victims of xenophobic attacks, rape, terminal illness, and given help to unaccompanied minors,” said Masawi.

“We monitor the police in these cases and advocate for increased action on their part when necessary. We accompany victims to medical centres, police stations and the courts and also help them find lawyers where necessary.”

The organisation initiates capacity building programmes aimed at challenging and educating South Africans to own and embrace programmes that will increase tolerance of foreign nationals. The organisation implements this project in rural and urban schools and farming communities mainly through community dialogue.

“We also give advice to socially disadvantaged foreign nationals on issues relating to refugee laws, labour laws and human rights,” said the humanitarian worker, whose organisation also informs its clients on where to apply for passports, permits and also makes follow ups on scams affecting many of those who applied for permits under the Zimbabwe Documentation Project.

“We also pay regular visits to farms to assess the living and working conditions of migrant farm workers and check on child labour cases there. Nothing motivates us more than helping some people pick the pieces of their fragmented lives and rebuilding them.”

The fact that he has done all his humanitarian work without stable funding, having to rely on handouts from such organisations like the Cape Town-based PASSOP and the Johannesburg-based Militia Trust can only speak volumes of a man out to do good for the community.

“In some cases, we also face resistance from some migrants who only begin to cooperate with us when they are in danger. We also do not have anything for humanitarian aid, which is important especially when dealing with the terminally ill, who would not be in a position to work and feed themselves,” said Masawi.

He migrated to South Africa in 2007 and founded the organisation in 2008, after he had experienced first-hand the suffering of socially disadvantaged foreigners at the hands of SA police and locals.

“While awaiting deportation at the border town of Messina, I was brutalised by police officers for putting pressure on them to call an ambulance to help some Malawian nationals who had malaria. This challenged me to do some research and my findings challenged me to do something,” he said.

He is inspired by people like Braam Hanekom of PASSOP, who later became his mentor and friend, Bishop Paul Verryn of the Johannesburg Central Methodist Church and others “who have agreed to pursue the dream”.

“I also get inspired by the desire to assist women undergoing various situations that infringe on the betterment of their lives, just like my mother, who was once a vibrant business woman, but had her finances drained by the court case,” he added.

Post published in: News
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