Xenophobia: Victims narrate horrible experiences as South Africans insist they must leave

Xenophobia: Victims narrate horrible experiences as South Africans insist they must leave

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As South Africa is now in the news for the wrong reason of xenophobic attack, the UK Guardian has reported on how the attack has affected several families, with special emphasis on one Fungai Chopo’s family. The paper reported that Chopo was working as a builder while his wife, Memory, was hired as a maid, and they shared a decent house with their two children. With their new job; joblessness, hunger and poverty that had confronted them from their home in Zimbabwe came to an abrupt end. This however could not last for too long due to the ongoing xenophobic attack in South Africa.

According to the report, few minutes before midnight of a particular day, about 15 men burst into Chopo’s family home, punched him to the point of death and blood gushed out of him. They threatened to kill the family. They equally stole all they had.

With the development, they are now like other unfortunate blacks resident in South Africa who are taking refuge in crowded tents in heavily guarded transit camp.

It would be recalled that following xenophobic violence in the country where at least five people have so far been killed, many foreigners have abandoned their shops in fear.

Report says shops have been looted and torched, and South Africa’s image may have been dented.

The situation according to report is worst in Durban, South Africa’s third-biggest city, to where the Chopos moved three years ago. “They beat my husband with sticks, they took everything, money, food, clothes for the baby,” said Memory, 31, wearing her last remaining T-shirt and protecting her children Mercy, four, and one-year-old John.

“They said ‘if you don’t give us these things, we will kill you. We want your shoes, remove your T-shirt.’ They took everything, even passports and IDs. The police came but they didn’t do anything because they are afraid of those boys.”

The Chopos now reside at a transit camp opened a week ago. The camp is located off Florence Nightingale Road in the suburb of Chatsworth. As at Thursday, it was already accommodating about 1,200 immigrants, and the area is reportedly manned by armed guards and steel crowd-control fencing draped with drying blankets and clothes.

Because, Memory’s antiretroviral drugs were taken by the invaders, she is hopeful that she will resume antiretroviral drug treatment for HIV soon as the governmnet offers treatment at the temporary camp. But the most pathetic situation is that she and her children now sleep on the cold floor of a crowded tent. “The conditions here are basic. We are in mixed tents with men, women and children; some are taking clothes off. The toilets are few and very dirty and people are getting sick,” she said. “I feel scared. I can’t sleep at night because the dreams are very bad, always seeing these visions from that night. They don’t have ears, they don’t have eyes.”

With the development, the Chopos are now planning and aspiring to take a bus back to Zimbabwe. “I came to South Africa for a better life and I worked for everything,” Memory said. “But we are going home empty-handed, without funds, without passports, without the kids’ birth certificates. Now, we have to wait for the transport provided by the government to take us home.”

Beside Memory was another victim of the attack, Joanna Moyo, 32, with a sick, sleeping baby tied to her back. She said: “I was robbed and now I don’t have anything, only my kids. I’m still worried those guys will come here and attack us. We want to go home. Even though there is nothing there, our lives are more important. I don’t think South Africa will welcome us again – they hate us now.”

While reacting to the development, Paul Manhica, 34, a car mechanic from Mozambique, said: “I chose South Africa because the living conditions are better than any other country. I believed in the rainbow nation and the peace created since the apartheid system failed. It’s a shock for me that it’s not the democratic country that I thought. I’m disappointed that an African brother could do this. It’s a lack of love in their hearts.”

Narrating further, he said he had lived in South Africa for 13 years and was leaving behind a South African wife and child. He said, “I came here for work to pursue a better life for myself and my family

“I got a small business, but it has all stopped since the attacks began.

“A group of people shouted at me: ‘There’s one of them. Catch him and torture him.’ Some of them were people I’ve known many years. But I believe the Lord looked after me: I ran to the mall and phoned the police. Later the attackers went from home to home and there was great destruction. I couldn’t sleep. At 1am I heard neighbours being tortured, screaming and running for their lives.”

Another Aaron Lavu, 39, a Zimbabwean who migrated 15 years ago and opened a small business, said, “South Africa is close to us and we were looking for greener pastures than the regime of Robert Mugabe. At first South Africans were friendly and we thought we would integrate. Then last week eight guys came and hit me with a hammer. They said: ‘You must pack your things and go home. We don’t need you here.’ It makes you feel lost, you can’t do anything anymore, you’re not part of the society. We feel hurt because we thought we were going to our brothers.”

Some South Africans have however supported the attacks and are calling on the affected persons to leave for their countries, blaming lack of job for their action. One Nana Mkhonde, 29 said, “Our citizens took action because they wouldn’t leave and they were being told they must leave. They came with nothing, they can go with nothing as well. I feel bad because they left crying, but we have no choice.

“They should go because we have no jobs. I’m a citizen and want to work for 150 rand a day but foreigners will do it for 70 rand a day. In the kitchens and the factories, they are taking over our jobs. They bring cheap goods and we don’t know where from. They leave their countries with a lot of skills and we have nothing. Our education is not good enough.”

Mkhonde, another unemployed single mother, backed the ongoing attacks, saying: “The government says it’s wrong because when they give jobs they help themselves. If you don’t have friends in the ANC, you get nothing. What about us? Our government is doing nothing for us. The reason we’re fighting foreigners is because of our government.”

Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini, also supported the attacks, by calling on foreigners to pack their bags and leave.

Meanwhile, the South African police minister, Nathi Nhleko, has described the attacks as examples of “Afrophobia”, not xenophobia. “What you don’t see is you don’t see Australians being chased on the streets, Britons being chased on the streets and similar demands being placed on them that they should leave the country and so on,” he said.

“What you effectively see is largely Africans against one another in a sense now. That’s why I’m saying it represents a certain type of political problem that has got to be dealt with by ourselves as South Africans. In a sense, what we are witnessing are actually Afrophobic kind of activities and attacks, resembling all elements of self-hate among Africans.”

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