Giving Back

They say money makes the world go round.  Good news!  A text message sneaked into my mobile phone some years ago.

“Congratulations.  Your phone number won £980,000 in the Global Phones Promo., your money is ready to be paid to you.  For details, send e-mail to

How they got my number is one big mystery.  An even bigger mystery is how they chose it from more than a trillion Android phones out there.  I wanted to call these people unprinted names for taking me for a fool, but I remember that 'mama raised me better than that', to quote Queen Beyonce, in her song Survivor.

It made me sad though that there are people who give such crooks a licence to rob them because they submit their bank details.  Anyway, I decided it was time for fantasy.  What would I do with the money?

I will give half to Durham University in the United Kingdom, a ten-minute ride to the historic Newcastle City.  This would be a way of giving back because I was educated by Durham students.  My scholarship was very unique because students donated one pound of their university fees to the scholarship fund set up to educate one student from South Africa.

I was in Durham for three years doing an Honours degree in Law and Politics.  The scholarship paid my fees, accommodation, made sure that I had warm clothes and pocket money for the bus and train. 

It was administered by Dr. Britnell, an exceptional scholar who opened his home to me.  He said the scholarship was the students’ way of saying no to apartheid.

The second half of the money will go to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) because they found the Durham University Scholarship for me in the first place.  Sue Fung, from Hong Kong who was in the dorm with me graduated first and went to New York.  She told me about Columbia University and its Graduate Programme in Journalism.

I told UNHCR’s Dr. Diarra Boubacar about it and the world organisation made sure that I got there.  It sent me back to Africa after graduation.  I was there for two years working as a journalist in Lesotho but things turned sour because of a piece I had written for a London magazine.

Lesotho kicked me out of the country and UNHCR found asylum for me in Canada.  Canada made me a human being because it made me a citizen, something I never had in South Africa because I’m African.

I would donate such money to these two institutions because I was not the first refugee in the world and there are many refugees that are created as you read this blog. 

Being ‘stateless’ is something a refugee cannot explain to someone who has a country, whether they live in it or in Dubai.  It is even worse if a refugee does not have a helping hand to ease the situation.

I was lucky.  I had UNHCR and Durham University students.  I was a refugee, but I was able to look after myself because of them. 

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness the novel.


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