PORT Elizabeth's Animal Welfare Society (AWS) has a new recruit with a difference, and his work as an over-qualified veterinary assistant is proving of great value to the hard- pressed organisation.
Mwamba Kabasele, 42, is in fact a qualified vet but his degree from the University of Lubumbashi back in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where he is from does not enable him to practise here unless he completes further exams. Most relate to establishing his proficiency in English.
Kabasele is aiming to do these exams at some point but in the meanwhile, he says, he is greatly enjoying his work as an assistant to AWS vet Dr Dave Stuart, and the quiet life in Port Elizabeth.
Stuart said he was very impressed with Kabasele. "It's fantastic to have him on board. When he's not working in theatre, he always finds something to do clipping, washing or dipping the animals. He sets a great example for the whole AWS team."
AWS manager Mark Mullan agreed. "He's a good man and a vital member of our team."
Interviewed this week by The Herald, Kabasele answered questions slowly, searching for the right words in English, which he still does not speak very well. He has a slight stutter and -- when asked about his ongoing dealings with the Home Affairs Department -- a wry grin.
He was born in the town of Kananga in central DRC, and has the startling blue eyes and freckled skin typical of many of the ancient Baluba tribe who have been in central Africa since the 5th century.
He moved with his family at a young age to the eastern city of Lubumbashi where he grew up and was educated. Even as a boy, he liked animals, he recalled, an inclination he inherited from his father, who had a passion for dogs.
He also learnt at a young age to work with them, he said.
"When I was still in secondary school I had goats, pigs, pigeons and ducks. I bred them so as to have the young ones to sell, to raise money for my education. In fact, animal welfare in DRC is okay because of this situation. People there realise they can make money from these animals, so they take care of them."
The DRC's civil war, flaring up again right now, was rumbling already in the late '80s, and it peaked in 2003. Kabasele had friends, colleagues and neighbours who were slaughtered in the brutal conflict between government, rebels and rival militias. Many others, driven from their homes to live in poverty, "died in the heart".
Having decided to leave for South Africa, he obtained a visa and came south in 2006 to the place he now regards as home.
With Home Affairs having closed their Port Elizabeth refugee office, Kabasele and other African foreign nationals have to travel to Cape Town to get their temporary asylum or residency status renewed or, they hope, made permanent.
It is a "difficult" experience, and he is still waiting for his permanent residency papers.
Still, Mwamba is happy. Each Monday he and a few other people meet for Bible study. There is no real difference between the people here and in his former homeland, he says.
"In general, I believe, people are the same."