, ZIMBAMBWE, Nov 20 – Eighteen-year-old Ephraim Ntlamo from Zimbabwe has a dream, and that is for next year’s elections in his country to be free, fair and peaceful.
To make his voice heard he is walking from Cape Town to Pretoria to gather signatures from people who, like him, want the South African administration to put pressure on Zimbabwe to keep violence at bay.
“I want to get 1 million signatures,” says Ephraim, who embarked on his journey on 18 November. Since then, he has walked between 50 and 55 km a day. “Yes, I am still feeling strong, although sometimes I get a bit lonely. Luckily another guy from Zimbabwe will join me soon.”
Ephraim’s idea is to deliver half a million signatures  at the office of South African president Jacob Zuma, the chief mediator and facilitator for the Zimbabwe crisis. “The remainder will go to the Angolan embassy. Angola chairs the Southern Africa Development Community’s discussions on regional politics, defence and security,” Ephraim adds, stating that his 1456km walk is dedicated “to all Zimbabweans who have lost their lives, or were injured and fled due to the political violence of 2008”.
“People need to know that the 2008 polls were marked by killings, horrendous injuries, electoral fraud, manipulation and selective application of the law,” Ephraim points out.
When asked if he is receiving help from sponsors, he shakes his head. “I am doing this with my own money. I could have gotten sponsors involved but I wanted this to be my thing, not something covered in logos. If people want to help, I will accept it of course.”
The trip is therefore low budget. “I am sleeping in the tent which I brought with me,” he says.
But a phone call almost put an end to the young Zimbabwean’s plans. “Before I left, a man threatened to interrogate my mother over whether I’d go ahead,” Ephraim recalls. “My gut feeling told me to carry on. I am not doing anything wrong. If the threats continue I can always quit.”
Ephraim was just fifteen when violence erupted in Zimbabwe following the 2008 elections. People were beaten, killed, and thrown in jail. Scores of boys were forced to join the youth militias of President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.
Like many youths from his country, he ended up in Johannesburg: “There was no money, no food, and no hope in Zimbabwe but in South Africa, I ended up on the streets. I did not know anyone in Johannesburg. After a month, I travelled to Cape Town where I ended up on the streets again,” he recalls. “All in all, I was homeless for 4 or 5 months. One day, someone working for a shelter approached me. I went along and eventually was given the opportunity to go back to high school.”
Going back to school marked a new dawn in Ephraim’s life: “There was quite a bit of prejudice between South African and foreign kids, and among the foreigners themselves. During the breaks, you’d see Somali kids standing together, Congolese kids standing together, and Zimbabwean kids standing together. South African kids had their own group.”
“I started to organise football matches between the different nationalities. The South African kids eventually joined us too. Everyone started to realise that the ‘others’ were not that different after all,” he says.
Refugee VI Foundation
In 2009, the soccer matches led to the founding of the Refugee VI Foundation , which aims to create a community among young refugee children living in South Africa alone while improving their living standards.
Apart from getting 1 million signatures and witnessing Zimbabwe going through peaceful, free, and fair elections, Ephraim has another dream. “I want to become a human rights lawyer,” he says. “But first I need to do this walk.”
Published on Radio Netherlands Worldwide (http://www.rnw.nl)