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STRONG LIKE A MADEIRENSE

On the 5th of July 2023, at the respectable age of 88, our Mariazinha Gonçalves, one of the matriarchs of our Community passed away. Her presence was a given at our gatherings, and the joy that she imparted upon all those that she interacted with is made apparent by the hundreds of messages that her family received expressing their sorrow. Mariazinha’s life wasn’t, however, a bed of roses, so-to-say. Her story is one of hardship and extreme pain. As anyone who would spend a little time with her would know, Mariazinha never really recovered from her son Ricky’s passing. Yet, through the pain, Mariazinha always ensured that the pride she felt for the people of the Island of Madeira was completely evident.


Mariazinha arrived in South Africa more than 70 years ago, landing at the port in Cape Town after weeks at sea. She came to meet the husband she had married via correspondence without ever meeting him. She didn’t speak a word of English, and the first months and years were certainly not easy. Even then, Mariazinha showed her great spirit. After just having settled in, and knowing when the other boats would be arriving, it was her habit to go to the port and try and assist other immigrants who were arriving in the same situation as her. A specific story was related to us by a member of the Portuguese Forum where a woman and her two children landed, without speaking a word of english or knowledge of how to get to their husband in Johannesburg. Mariazinha recognised her from her freguesia in Madeira. After giving them a good hearty meal, after such a long time at sea, Mariazinha ensured they got on the right train to go to Johannesburg. This is just one of the many examples of stories that we came to know in the past weeks.


Until the very end, Mariazinha worked at the Portuguese Forum and Manny’s switchboard, and I must say that since she has gone, some of my personal phone calls have gone astray. Her work ethic and the joy with which she arrived at the office every day is being sorely missed by all.


The headline of this newspaper, “Strong like a Madeirense”, was one of her favourite sayings. Mariazinha’s story is not much different from that of the earlier generation that came to South Africa in the “Vapor”, the steamboats that brought the first wave of Madeiran emigration to South Africa. Their life stories and the tenacity that they showed by overcoming unspeakable odds to become one of the economical powerhouses of this country are a story that deserves to be told time and again. It is for this reason that we at the Voz Portuguesa have decided to bring you some stories of our parents, grandparents, and quite possibly great-grand parents, what they did and how they came to thrive in this beautiful country of ours, with “saudades da Madeira” always in their heart. To start, in the September edition of the Voz Portuguesa, you will be able to read Mariazinha’s story, followed by those of many others. Should you have a special story to tell, let us know. We’d love to honour those who came before you.


Roberto Silva

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