To use Scotch Street woman Nandi Jola’s own words, she has “a lot in common” with the late African leader Nelson Mandela.
The mother-of-one, poet and mental health advocate not only grew up in the apartheid regime but has also been in prison, albeit without walls, since she moved to Northern Ireland in 2001.
But like the revered leader, who was buried this week, she says she has never lost hope, despite suffering what she describes as “a decade of turmoil”.
Nandi (35) arrived in Northern Ireland with her husband, who had a job as an engineer, but after suffering domestic violence at his hands she left him in 2005. Their daughter Anesu (God with us) was just two years old.
Since then, she has been caught in a Catch-22 situation, not permitted to return to South Africa with her daughter - despite that being her burning wish - until she turns 18, and yet not being ‘legal’ as her husband refuses to renew her visa.
She said, “I have been homeless, sick, not entitled to benefits and my daughter has been in foster care because I took a nervous breakdown. I have knocked on so many doors but got nowhere. The law need to be changed.”
It is Nandi’s daughter who has kept her going. along with the charity and support of friends, and most recently, being able to express her frustrations and her pain through her writing, poetry and work as a motivational speaker.
Following Mandela’s death, Nandi has given radio interviews and talks on the former president and life in South Africa.
She recalls growing up in a black-only neighbourhood in Port Elizabeth, now renamed Nelson Mandela Bay. “My father was a school bus driver but it was for whites only. Our schools were still using blackboards while the whites’ had computers,” she said.