The Gwanis


Making the transition to Joburg (Johannesburg, South Africa) was not easy. On the one hand, I could feel it in my bones that this was right. I was happy. No, actually thrilled to finally be relocating to what may be Africa’s most significant city.

Joburg! With its industry, internationalism, architecture, modern train system, style, and drive, attracted the best of Africa and the best of multinational companies and NGOs interested in investing in Africa. The city has its challenges, but the moment I first set foot here in 2005, I thought “hmmm, I won’t mind living here.”
Deep inside, Joburg gave me hope that if we as Africans get our act together, we can definitely compete in this hyper turbulent globalized economy. But the cherry on the cake for me was the opportunity to finally be in a part of South Africa where I could learn from, network with and easily attend special events by great churches and mission agencies here. Furthermore, as one who enjoys missionary journeys, Joburg was only about 40 minutes away from Pretoria, the hub of the diplomatic community in South Africa, where I could apply for visas. What more could a person want?

On the other hand, I struggled with the pain of separation. Although obviously less than the pain Grace struggled with after her mum’s death, yet coming to terms with the reality of leaving (and possibly never seeing some of) my very dear colleagues at Mercy Ships, great friends at Langa Baptist Church, and especially my in-laws in Cape Town, was a tough emotion to manage.
But I was not the only one struggling with separation. My three-year-old daughter, Amina, who had never been away from her mum for more than a few days, now had to manage the reality of a two-week separation. Although we made sure she could chat on the phone with her mum at least once every two days, Amina kept asking, “Uphi mama?”(Xhosa for “where’s mummy?”).

Almost two weeks ago my wife, Mampho, flew to Joburg to take up an appointment with the cell phone company, Vodacom. Although she had been happy to be a full-time mum and primary-care-giver to our kids, after two years Mampho was beginning to feel like being a bit more productive beyond serving Amina, Israel and I. So when the Vodacom opportunity came, she jumped at it. However, little Amina just couldn’t understand why she had to be left behind. She became clingy and seemingly afraid that I may also “leave” her. Empathizing with the insecurities of my three-year-old, I tried to reassure her that we’ll join mummy soon, explaining that Mummy (and one-year-old Israel) is now in Joburg because mummy found a new job there.
I sensed it was time to be dad to Amina by giving to, serving, and affirming her, but especially by investing in her two major love languages, touching and spending quality time. So I pulled back from appointments to spend more time with Amina, read her bible stories and watch her favourite movie, Shrek. But aware of my limitations, I often secretly prayed asking God to help in the way only He can. In the mean time, I tried to quickly complete projects I was involved with at work and church.

In reflecting on this transition, I also felt we’ll need to be more spiritually alert as Joburg, like other money-driven cities, may be susceptible to strongholds like greed, extra-marital sex, marriage breakdowns, and the like. Furthermore, it seemed like we’ll have to spend quality time in prayer for the best strategy in launching the Joburg activities of Mercy Ships, a medical charity I’ve come to love and have been working for since 2001.

Bright and early on 18th July, I gave Amina a bath and a friend from church very kindly dropped her and me at the Cape Town airport. We were accompanied by my mother-in-law and Onele, Amina’s cousin who couldn’t hold back his tears because he was going to miss her a lot. I don’t remember seeing my daughter this excited. Although it was a cold winter day in Cape Town, Amina looked dashing in her cream suede jacket and well plaited Corn rows, as the hairstyle is affectionately called in South Africa. We hugged and said our goodbyes, went through the metal detector and boarded the Mango Airlines jet for Joburg. I was concerned whether Amina will behave and glad that she paged through her children’s Bible story book, had some food and slept most of the way.

On arrival, we saw Mampho through the open doors as we approached the conveyor belts to get our luggage. As I wheeled the trolley Mina saw her mom and ran to give her a hug. We kissed but, more than anything else, it was a special bonding time for daughter and mother, so I gave them some space. It was catching up time all the way from OR Tambo airport to Mampho’s brother’s house in Midrand, where we reunited with Israel. Absence truly makes the heart fonder. The catching up continued until bedtime, and I slept well that night, grateful for the blessing of family and wondering what the future may hold for us in this new season of life.

Written by Henry Gwani

Henry Gwani

Henry Gwani is a student of management and intercultural studies whose work assignments have taken him to more than 20 countries across Africa, Europe and North America. A former management team member aboard the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship, the m/v Africa Mercy, Henry is married to Mampho and speaks to various audiences every month, inviting them to transition from success to significance.

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