The suffering of Hélio’s mother (O Calvário da mãe do Hélio)
On a child victim of the breadriots – Original Article (in Portuguese)
Rute continues to live with a feeling of amputation. It seems unbearable to carry on living after the loss of her son, but she must overcome her sadness in order to look after her remaining child, even though she feels she has been betrayed by fate. Unemployed, with a young child and with no assistance from the State, Rute doesn’t know what to do. This is the dilemma faced by the mother of Hélio – the child who lost his life on September 1st.
Rute was very happy as a teenager and in spite of their poverty, she always had the love of her parents and of the whole family. Aged 16, she met the father of her first child. “I was certain that we loved each other, although our relationship was full of ups and downs. After two years together, I became pregnant. We hadn’t planned the pregnancy, but I never considered aborting my child”.
The father of the child abandoned her when she was three months pregnant. Just as she was getting used to the idea of having a child, she had to confront the reality of being a single mother. While she was pregnant, she says: “I cried every time I saw a man stroking a pregnant woman’s belly or a father playing with his son”.
A woman full of sadness
Shrinking into a tiny chair, in a hut in the middle of the Maxaquene “A” district to the east of the protests which occurred on the outskirts of Maputo and Matola in September, Rute Silvestre Muianga, aged 30, tells how last September 1st she packed her eldest son’s books into his schoolbag and said goodbye to him, not knowing that he would never return from school.
Hélio Elias Rute Muianga was studying in the fifth class at the Maxaquene “B” First Level Primary School. As a result of the popular protests, classes on September 1st were cancelled. He left school with a neighbour and lost his life on the Avenida Acordos de Lusaka.
The route that Hélio used to take to school was made up of alleyways and backstreets within the densely populated district of Maxaquene, but on that day, drawn by the sound of shooting and by his childish innocence, he went towards the real bullets of the police.
The outcome of this meeting was a bullet in the head of an 11 year old child: Hélio Elias Rute Muianga. The brutality of the shot meant that Hélio was dead when he left the Avenida Acordos de Lusaka.
According to popular wisdom, the most important news travels like the wind. Just a few minutes after Hélio fell to the ground next to his books and his schoolbag, back in his home district, his mother’s face was already flooded with tears. “My son died instantly. He couldn’t even be helped”. Losing a son subverts the natural order of things, and even today, Rute asks herself: “Why him and not me?”.
Rute laments not having been with her son at that moment. “I didn’t accompany my son to the hospital, I would have liked to have lived that moment with him no matter how difficult it was. I needed to confront the situation, to see what the police were offering me. It wouldn’t be my best memory, but seeing him dead would have been the only way for me to understand that I have lost him forever”.
Desperately, Rute, in the company of her family, went to the 12th police squad to demand explanations. Basically, the 30 year old wanted to know who would return her son to her alive. However, that visit did not bring Hélio back to life, nor did it provide Rute with any kind of assistance. “The police told us that they couldn’t do anything. First they had to carry out a review and only then could they take measures”. That review, however, was only carried out when Hélio had already been buried without any support from the State. Three days after his death, on Saturday 4th September, the family, with a great deal of sacrifice, managed to buy a coffin so that they could give little Hélio a decent burial. A simple ceremony, without the presence of a State representative, just family members, two teachers, and some classmates, neighbours and friends.
… And death took away work
Rute found herself without her son and with a feeling of emptiness. Then she lost her job and had even more time to dwell on her loss. She used to work as a domestic worker in a house in the Triunfo district, earning 1800 meticals, of which 450 went to paying for her transport.
The mass to mark the eighth day of Hélio’s death took place on September 11th. Rute had agreed with her boss that she would return to work on Monday 13th, but was appalled to find another person in her place. “Domestic workers cannot be sick, cannot have problems. The boss said she had found someone else. What could I do?”, she laments. However, the Regulation of Domestic Work (Decree no. 40/2008 of November 26th) states that the cessation of a worker’s rights, duties and guarantees occurs following 30 days of absence, while Rute took just 8 days off work.
On the other hand, the regulation is unclear as to the compensation incurred. Rute could have complained that she had not exceeded the period stipulated by the law, if she was not ignorant of the existence of the employment rights relating to domestic workers.
If Rute finds another job, she doesn’t know who will look after her youngest son. Lewis used to stay with Hélio when she went to work, she says. “Now, if I find work, I will have to leave him in a creche”. However, the price which she would have to pay would leave her with little more than 1100 meticals at the end of the month. “A salary which won’t stretch very far”, I affirm. “It’s better than nothing”, she retorts.
Rute confesses that if she found the person who killed her son she “wouldn’t say anything. I have nothing left because I have already lost my son”. In truth, she doesn’t know what she would do. She adds: “My hopes were in my son. If he was alive, I was certain that in the future he would help me”.
Living in extreme poverty
To call the hut in which Rute lives with her husband and her youngest son Lewis a house would be euphemistic. The space, 2.5 metres long and 5 metres wide, is a negation of human existence. The few possessions which the couple have accumulated in their three years together, are more than sufficient to render the space, which is already tiny, completely uninhabitable.
A double bed, an embroidered suitcase, a small television, a lamp, a mosquito net and a few clothes are the sum of the family’s belongings. The exterior of the house has a wall made of sheets of zinc and a fence which comes up to one’s waist. Inside the room, it becomes clear that one of the sidewalls is no more than a collection of blocks placed one on top of the other. On the other side, the wall is made of reeds and covered with sheets of zinc.
At first glance, it looks like a rabbit hutch, but it is indeed a house, albeit without proper walls and with no piped water. Inside, there is an empty space and on the left is the room where Rute lives with her husband. On the other side lives the family of the husband who gave up the space three years ago when Hélio’s mother became pregnant with her second son.
The people, in their infinite wisdom, say that one ill never comes without another. A milennial truth which fell into Rute’s life like a thunderbolt: she still doesn’t know when, but she, her husband and her son must abandon the house. The husband’s family has found another use for the space in which she lives. She doesn’t know where they will go on the day they have to leave.
An emptiness that can never be filled. Usually, people confronted with the loss of a son face the question of what to do with the empty room, the clothes and toys which are left, but in the case of Rute Silvestre Muianga, the emptiness is only in her heart. Hélio didn’t have a room, didn’t have toys. The books and the schoolbag disappered without trace. Life has left her just one son and two headaches: finding work and a place to live. Hélio is now just a memory which she keeps close to her chest.