No Christmas celebration for Rwandan asylum seeker

For Beatrice Ingabire and her four children, Christmas is just another day

Photo of a woman
Rwandan asylum seeker Beatrice Ingabire says since she came to South Africa Christmas has been like any other day. Photo: Tariro Washinyira

For Rwandan asylum seeker Beatrice Ingabire, Christmas will be a day like any other.

“My children have never experienced any celebrations; we can’t even afford birthday celebrations,” she says.

Ingabire, 37, is a single parent, mother of three girls and a boy. She moved to South Africa in 2013.

She says her three-year-old daughter has been singing about getting a pink dress and shoes for Christmas. But only the privileged can buy new clothes and decide what to cook and drink on Christmas Day.

“As for us, we will drink water… it won’t make any difference,” says Ingabire. “Raising money for rent this month of December is my priority.”

Ingabire says her little girl complains about having to wear clothes the family is given. “She was refusing to wear those oversized dark coloured trousers and top, saying it’s for a boy. But what choice do I have? Whatever people bring from church for her, she should be grateful.”

Ingabire does part-time domestic work and her two older daughters, aged 16 and 18, work three shifts a week at a restaurant in Panorama to help pay for transport to school and for fees, uniforms and stationery.

Ingabire is receiving notices of demand for school fees. She intends to visit the district offices for help as suggested to GroundUp by Jessica Shelver, spokesperson for provincial education department, in a previous article.

She worries that they don’t have enough time for homework. Sometimes the restaurant transport drops them home after midnight, and then they have to get up at 5:30am to prepare for school.

Last year on Christmas Day, the family went to church and when they returned home, neighbours and the people they share a house with were braaing.

“I pulled my children inside and they stayed until the people were done,” says Ingabire. Then she prepared the usual meal of pap and vegetables. She will do the same this year.

Her face lights up when she shows photos of her life in Rwanda.

People start to prepare three months before Christmas, says Ingabire, who used to own a retail business. Shops run out of clothes and groceries in the festive season buying spree.

“In my country Christmas was a party day. I had a very big house. People would come and eat at my house.”

“Look how happy my kids are in these past photos. Now that I have come to live this cheap life, my kids are miserable. I had many servants, but now I am the maid.”


Dear Editor

I read this article and, like many others by GroundUp. I felt such a burden on my heart for the people in it. I absolutely appreciate the hard work your journalists do in giving a voice to those who would otherwise be unheard.

I would love to hear more as to what drives African refugees and asylum seekers to leave their homes and come to South Africa. Besides for the obvious situations like famine in Zimbabwe and wars; for example in this case I cannot understand why Beatrice came to South Africa, if her descriptions of her life in Rwanda were so glowing. Perhaps it would inspire more people if during the course of your articles on foreigners, some mention was made of what they faced that led to the decision of coming to South Africa, or what their hope for coming here was. I feel the more we understand, the more welcoming people might be. I know for myself, as i have immersed myself in the current situatuon in Zimbabawe, my heart to assist Zimbabwean refugees has grown exponentially. I'm sure it will be the same for many people.

Thank you so much for your great work.

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