Source: The Post Online
"I will never escape the past - it will keep haunting me simply because I was there, yet I was unable to protect her like any husband would."

Almost in tears, Congolese father-of-one, Rodrick Musonde (not real names), recalls how rebels made him watch while they took turns raping his wife.

"It was traumatic," he says in a hesitant voice. "They never asked for options. Had they, I would have told them to kill me and not lay a finger on her, but they never did."

It was on January 23rd this year when this misfortune unfolded in Rodrick's world.

"We first heard gunshots from a distance, then screams followed. Before we could comprehend what was happening, they had broken down the door and forced themselves inside our house," he recalls.

Armed with AK47 rifles and machetes, the rebels demanded nothing except the name and tribe of Rodrick's household members.

"With two guns pointed an inch away from my forehead, there was nothing I could do. They started interrogating my wife and in the process one of them hit her and ripped off her blouse. I tried to protest but it was no use. I was hit with a barrel in my back, blood instantly started dripping and I was almost unconscious when the first one forced himself on her," he says.

"One after another, at least eight I counted, the rebels took turns raping my wife."

This was not all. After raping Rodrick's wife, the rebels killed his six-year-old daughter together with his wife's parents who were living next door!

This is part of the damage that has been caused in the lives of most of the refugees now living at Mayukwayukwa refugee settlement in Kaoma.

Established in 1966 to host Angolan refugees fleeing from the war of liberation in Angola, Mayukwayukwa is the oldest refugee settlement in Africa.

Located approximately 105 kilometres north-west of Kaoma town and 197km from Mongu, the settlement currently has a population of 9,705, of which 84 per cent are Angolans and the rest are Congolese, Burundian and Rwandan.

Most of the new arrivals, estimated at 20 per month at the settlement, are coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

DR Congo, where Rodrick fled from, is described as the "rape capital of the world".

Armed groups roam the eastern part of that country, leaving a trail of horrific violence against women especially.

I met Rodrick on his second day in Mayukwayukwa refugee settlement where he has taken sanctuary with his wife and their three-year old daughter.

I asked Rodrick how he feels being at the settlement and about his wife being raped. His answer was precise; "I am happy I am here because I will no longer have to look over my shoulder to see who is coming to kill my daughter or rape my wife. I will not be able to forgive those rapists because they destroyed my life."

Rodrick's wife is lucky to still be with the husband.

Like many, Rodrick wants a fresh start and hopefully put the past behind him.

A route to a new start may not be an easy one for Rodrick and his family.

That is not to say all hope is lost for this young couple because there are many other refuges in the settlement who have managed to put the past behind him and have managed to make it big.

For instance, 49-year-old William Kasoka, who found sanctuary in Mayukwayukwa after fleeing from Angola in 1966 with his parents who are both deceased now, runs successful businesses in the settlement.

"I came here as a young boy. I started grade one here at Mayukwayukwa Basic School and today I run a number of businesses and employ others including Zambians," Kasoka boasts.

"I have two shops and a number of hammer mills and crop fields."

Indeed, a refugee like Kasoka, earning over K15 million per month when business is good, can afford to boast.

However, even for Kasoka, a father of nine, not all is rosy.

His stay in Zambia hangs in the balance following the announcement of the June 30 deadline for all Angolan refugees residing in Zambia to repatriate.

Their status as refugees will come to an end on that date, after which they will be treated as Angolan foreigners living in Zambia and will be required to meet all the immigration benchmarks.

For Kasoka and many other Angolans, starting all over back home is something they are not ready for.
"I don't know what to do with all my business here," he says. "I can't carry them to Angola, how would I carry them anyway?" wonders Kasoka.

His older brother, Chitondo shares his fears.

"I have lived 46 years as a refugee here in Zambia. Where will I start from in Angola when home is here?" Chitondo, who has been tilling the land in Mayukwayukwa since the 60s, wonders.

Mwaba Mumba, a refugee officer at the settlement, confirmed that most of the refugees are defiant about returning home.

She says from an intentional survey carried out in 2010, about half of the refugee population was willing to return whereas the other half was not, for various reasons.

"Some of the reasons are that they don't have families in Angola. Some of them have been in Zambia as far as 1966, so the idea of going back to Angola and reintegrating is not so appealing. Others have been born here in the settlement and have actually never set foot in Angola," Mumba says.

Chiyobo Nyalumela, 68, fled the war in Angola and arrived in Zambia in 1970.

She says her last memories of home are "too dark to imagine".

Her family was murdered in cold blood, she says.

"I used to be a happy married farmer but my husband and my only child were killed in Angola," she explains.

"I am happy here but if they want me to go home, everything will change. I don't have any family there and I don't know where to start from."

Erculano Salugardo, one of the oldest refugees living in Zambia, urged the government to allow certain categories of the Angolan refugees, such as the old and those that have lived for a long time in Zambia, to naturalise their stay in the copper rich nation.

Born on July 29, 1911, Salugardo is believed to be the oldest refugee in Zambia.

He turns 101 next month and says he is too old to go back home.

However, prospects for local integration are still grim in the absence of clear government position and commitment to legally allow certain categories of refugees to naturalise their stay in Zambia.

For Salugardo and other elderly refugees, this is the dilemma surrounding them at the moment.

Nevertheless, the Zambian government and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) will definitely continue urging Angolan refugees to register for voluntary repatriation as cessation of their status approaches.

The Zambian government has pledged full support towards the repatriation exercise and visiting UNHCR executive committee chairperson Jan Knutson, who was in the country recently, said UNHCR was going to work hand-in-hand with the government in implementing that pledge.

For now all there is to do is imagine how some of these refugees, whose lives have been destroyed like Rodrick will come to terms with reality in a place where sexual violence was used as a weapon of war and with extraordinary brutality.

If they decide to remain behind, we will still watch what will become of them after June 30!

But as I leave Mayukwayukwa, there's one detail of a story that I can't forget.

When being informed about the June 30 deadline, one refugee was told, by officials, that he will be arrested and thrown in jail if he stays behind.

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