In Digging For Life, Tommy Germain narrates his life story, of leaving home to start life in South Africa and being kidnapped and sold into slavery in the diamond mines of Angola.
Tommy grew up in Limbe, Cameroon. His family was large, he was one of 9 kids, so as soon as he was grown, he set off to try to earn money for the family. He had just turned 25, and Mandela had been released. South Africa was the new hope of the continent, a place where Black people would finally be given equal treatment.
Having very little money, he had no choice but to walk there. For those of you thinking, shit, isn’t that a long way? Yes, it’s over 4000km. So it’s very little wonder when he was offered a lift across the border, given that he also had no travel visa, that he took it.
It was a grave mistake. He took a chance on a corrupt policeman, hoping to be smuggled out the country for a price. But the guy drove him to Angola in the boot of his car and sold him into slavery. There he would lose 4 years of his life to diamond mining.
Every day they worked from sunup to sundown, and regularly they were not fed. They were beaten mercilessly, and there was no escape.
Finally some diamonds went missing, and his captors took him and his fellow miners out to a cemetery and ordered them to dig their own graves. Tommy was alone in Angola, no one knew where he was, no one would ever be able to tell his parents how he died. And then the boss of the overseers showed up and said, “These aren’t the ones I told you to kill!” and by a hair’s breadth, his life was saved.
It’s a hard story to tell. It’s hard to convey, to get anyone to understand what it was like for him. And even at the happy ending – returning to his family – he is returning penniless and without anything to compensate his family for his years of absence. It is a hard thing.
But he is here. And he now has a family. They live in the US. He survived. And he has the courage to share his story.
A portrait of a man of incredible bravery, endurance and strength.