Swaziland: Busisiwe Phiri

Date: September 19, 2018
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Busisiwe Phiri is a married woman aged 43. She is a care giver at Ngwenya village. Her story goes as follows.

I was born in Ngwenya village under Hhohho region. My home is very close to the border between Swaziland and South Africa. It is the main border post in Swaziland to South Africa. My home town is Mbabane which is about 40km from the border. My mother used to sell handicraft in South Africa whereas my father was unemployed. He was the village drunkard. They had marital problems with my father and my mother decided to leave us with him. We were 5 (3 girls and 2 boys). My mother is a South African, born in Limpopo South Africa. She went back to her home country and remarried.

My mother would make and sell shawls and jerseys to make ends meet. However my father on the other hand was a very abusive man. He would beat up my mother at times.  He once tried selling us to people who wanted to perform ritual purposes with our parts in exchange for money for booze. I was left to look after my siblings of which the youngest was 9months. My mother came to visit and some neighbour’s adviced her to take us away from our father because he was abusing us. She moved with us to some place where I was forced to be the head of the household at 9years. We had nothing to eat. I had to go and scavenge in the pit where people at the border threw repossessed food.

 My mother sent me to stay with her brother. I had to leave school; I was doing grade 2. I used to watch mum making the jerseys and shawls and was inspired to follow in her footsteps at an early stage. My uncle then sent me back to school the following year. To pay for that I was forced to look after his cattle at an early stage. I would heard them after school and during weekends. I would leave the cattle unattended to go to church because I love singing and playing with the other children. The church elder would sometimes give us sweet. My uncle eventually learnt that I was leaving the cattle unattended to go to church and I was severely punished for that. He would tie my hand and feet with wires and beat me with a whip (strobho), the beating was so heavy such that sometimes I would collapse and wake up wet after they threw cold water to resuscitate me. The punishment I usually got for simply mistakes made me to isolate myself from the rest of the children I was living with. I found comfort in the church and my hand craft. I became very shy. My mother was very far to report all that I was going through.

When I reached my teenage stage, boys eventually started noticing me and started asking me out. Once a boy wrote me a letter and gave it to one of my cousins who took it straight to his father and I was severely punished for that. He would force me to undress then tie me up and beat me. I was not a problematic child though, I did everything as I was told. I had so much respect for my uncle in fact I was afraid of him.  After some year my uncle felt that he was tired of me and sent me to stay with his younger brother. He would also slave me around, I would bath their kids, grind mealie meal for them while they play. I did not have time to play or read my books. I was working tireless so that he pays for my school fees. Both my uncles took advantage that I was not a lazy child and slaved me throughout my childhood. I was not given my share of food, they would say I was going to eat after my cousin were all full. I would go for days without proper meals. I survived by eating left overs, sometime my uncles wife would pour water in the pot so I would eat the left overs with water. My uncle would complain that I eat his dog’s food.

I got the chance to visit my grandmother and I told her everything that I was going through. She never believed me.  I tried telling my mother about my living conditions at both my uncles’ places. She got so furious that she quarrelled with her brothers. Life became unbearable after their fight. I then ran away to stay with my mother’s friend. I was 17 years by then, I got a job as a nanny.  I met my current husband there while working as a nanny. We stayed together and had children. My husband was unemployed so I started selling fat cakes and fish. I used the salary I earned to start my fat cakes and fish business.

Seeing that there is a demand for my products I went to some lady at church to ask for a loan.  I added my stock and my business was booming. I served some money and bought some material to make polo necks, t-shirts and tracksuits. I asked a certain Mozambican to sew for me the clothes because I had no sewing machine. Seeing that my business was growing, I asked the same Mozambican to borrow me one of his sewing machines because he had more than one. He gave me the sewing machine and I sew the polo necks, t-shirts and track suits. I would buy ready-made (new clothes) undo the sewing then put it back together. That is how I taught myself how to sew the track suits, polo necks and t- shirts. I also went to stock second hand clothes from Mozambique and sell them to the community I taught myself to make polo necks, t- shirt, winter socks, emapitikoti, traditional wears and the fish and fat cakes. Recently I bought a deep freezer, I buy live chickens, slaughter them and divide them into portions then sell that. I sell all these to the community of Ngwenya. I have a stall at Ngwenya market. With the money I get I manage to pay for our children’s school fees and we eventually bought a taxi which is operating at Mbabane bus rank.  My husband is driving that taxi.

At times I am forced to use the profit I get to buy food and pay for children’s school fees. I bought a manual second hand sewing machine because I used to have no electricity at home. This sewing machine would sometimes have mechanical problem, so my husband would fix it. If the problem required more expertise I would take it to the big city to be fixed. Replacing some parts was a challenge though. I had challenges acquiring some material I use to sew the socks and polo necks because I buy it locally. Sometimes the suppliers run out of stock and I have to wait for them to get it outside the country. I eventually sold second hand clothes from Mozambique to boost my business.

 After attending the 5 day’s workshop we had from Gender Links I have joined (phytomed product) selling herbal remedies. I was inspired by a certain lady who said she used the products but the agent she bought them from was staying in South Africa. So I contacted the company and joined. I am the country representative now. I also bought some of the products to use them so I would be able to educate people on their benefits. In these products I make some profits too. I bought a certain product for one lady who is on ART’s to use, she was unable to walk but after using the product she can walk. I take care of sickly people in my community. I have courage to do more. I met some of the women in my community and we have formed a society. We are planning to rent a grocery shop to start generating income. I learned how to make Vaseline, liquid soap and sta- soft. I will share my skills with women in the community so they will be able to make money for the society.

My financial contribution at home has helped strengthen my relationship with my husband. We make decisions concerning our home jointly and we staying in peace. He respect me and is very helpful in doing house chores. I went to Sebenta (adult education centre) to further my studies since I left school in grade 9.  I have a passion to do carpentry but I lack the skills, machinery and material.

I encourage other women in my community to do business. I have taught few ladies to produce Vaseline and sell to the community. I also encourage them to bring their wares in meetings or when going to meet a group of people. People look up to me and others approach me in finding ways to do business. I do share my ideas with people and other ladies are beginning to follow suit.