Miracle tree-top baby: Mozambique's modest celebrity

2017-02-28 14:55
Rosita Mabuiango (File: AFP)

Rosita Mabuiango (File: AFP)

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Chibuto - Rosita Mabuiango's birth in a tree above swirling waters 17 years ago thrust her into instant stardom, drawing global attention to the worst floods to hit Mozambique in recent memory.

The images of Rosita draped in dirty linen, moments after she and her mother were hoisted to safety by a helicopter, touched the world, helping raise funds for tens of thousands of flood victims.

But these days, the teenager doesn't consider herself special.

"I'm normal, it's just a different way of being born," she says with a broad smile.

Rosita was born on March 1, 2000, four days after her marooned mother clambered into a tree to escape deadly floods ripping through southern Mozambique.

"I think it's God who chose that I be born that way," the soft-spoken Rosita told AFP, her gaze lowered as she sat on a cream sofa at her godmother's house in the capital, Maputo.

Torrential floods had forced a heavily pregnant Carolina Chirindza and other family members into a tree with no food or water.

Clinging onto tree branches, Chirindza - previously named in the media as Sofia Pedro -- also went into labour.

Her mother-in-law held a capulana -  a long sarong - under her to catch the baby and prevent it from falling into the muddy, crocodile-infested flood waters.

The baby was named Rosita, after Chirindza's mother-in-law.

Pulled out of poverty

"I was not prepared for this, but that's what God wanted," Chirindza, 39, told AFP while sitting outside her house in Chibuto, a city 280km northeast of Maputo.

An AFP journalist witnessed her and the newly-born baby being winched away by a South African defence forces helicopter just after the birth.

After landing on dry ground, the exhausted mother cuddled her daughter in drenched linen.

As Rosita approaches her 17th birthday, her mother said their survival was a "miracle for sure".

"Yes it changed my life, because now I have a house, I also have a job," said Chirindza, speaking in front of a three-bedroom house donated to the family by the local municipality.

She was also given a post as cleaner by the district administrator, lifting her out of dire poverty.

Four and a half months after she was born, Rosita and her mother travelled to Washington to lobby the US Congress for expanded aid to help tens of thousands of Mozambicans affected by the catastrophe.

Rosita's tree-top birth helped cast the spotlight on an impoverished country overwhelmed by floods. Nearly 800 people died in the disaster.

She became a rallying point for securing millions of dollars in international aid, both to help those affected and to improve flood protection schemes that have prevented a repeat of the huge death toll.

A plaque has been erected on the mafureira, or natal mahogany tree, where she was born.

But Rosita is relieved that public attention on her has faded and that she enjoys a normal life, focusing on her schoolwork.

She wants to study petrochemical engineering -- a strategic career choice with the recent discovery of gas reserves off the coast of Mozambique.

Family friction 

When not studying, she plays football at her Catholic school and for local junior clubs.

Rosita owes her love of football to her brother Benedito -- who was aged four when she was born and was also trapped in the tree for four days strapped to his mother's back.

Sporting a short curly haircut, she proudly tells AFP that she is taking classes in Tang Soo Do -- a Korean type of self-defensive martial art.

Rosita's dramatic birth also attracted a deluge of personal gifts that led to friction in her family.

Neighbours say her father, Salvador Mabuiango, is estranged from the family after selling some gifts and even trying to sell a portion of the land on which the family house is built.

A court eventually stripped him of his parental rights.

During school term, Rosita lives in Maputo with her godmother, Ruth Valera, a leading Mozambican fashion designer.

Valera, 49, had been in Lisbon for a fashion show when Rosita was born.

Three weeks later she returned home and was asked by a cabinet minister to become godmother to the baby.

"It was amazing. I didn't even know if it was a boy or a girl," Valera said.

"Why I was chosen - it's God, because I'm not a relative, the thing just happened like that.

"This year we will have a normal birthday party with a cake and she will invite her mother, brother and friends from school, but next year we plan a big celebration for her 18th."

Read more on:    mozambique  |  southern africa

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