Black African Immigrants
in South Africa
BLACK Africans mostly from the countries of Southern Africa have migrated to South Africa through decades to work in
the mines and other sectors of the economy.
During white minority rule, especially in the 1950s, the apartheid regime even provided free transport for Africans
from neighbouring countries who wanted to work in the mines.
They came mostly from Basutoland (now Lesotho), Bechuanaland (Botswana), Nyasaland (Malawi), Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe),
Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), and Tanganyika (now Tanzania) when the countries were still under colonial rule. All these countries
were once ruled by Britain.
But the recruitment of African labour did not continue in all the countries after they won independence. Tanganyika
under the leadership of President Julius Nyerere stopped its citizens from going to South Africa even to visit let alone work
because of that country's racist policies of apartheid.
But there were many Tanganyikans already working in the mines in South Africa and many of them, if not the majority,
stayed in South Africa even after their country won independence from Britain in December 1961. And they are still there today,
together with their children and grandchildren Others, as Tanzanians, migrated to South Africa after apartheid ended in 1994.
One Tanzanian writer, Godfrey Mwakikagile, recalls how his fellow countrymen left Tanganyika (as the country was then
known before uniting with Zanzibar in 1964 to form Tanzania) to work in the mines in South Africa, and even in Northern Rhodesia
and the Belgian Congo in the 1950s and before then.
Members of his tribe, the Nyakyusa, constituted one of the largest ethnic groups of migrant workers from Tanganyika
who went to work in the mines in South Africa in the 1950s.
And in an ironic twist, some of the migrant workers from Tanganyika who were recruited as labourers to work
in the South African mines had originally migrated from South Africa to Tanganyika. They were the Ngoni. As Godfrey Mwakikagile
states in his book, Life in Tanganyika in The Fifties:
“The fifties were without question some of the most important years of my
life. They were my formative years as much as the sixties were. And I remember listening to many inspiring stories which helped
to enlarge my mental horizon at such an early age. And they have remained a source of inspiration throughout my life. My father
was one of the people who liked to tell stories about hard work and success in life and played a critical role in shaping
my personality when I was growing up.
I also remember hearing stories of valour about the Nyakyusa during my time and in the past including
their successful campaigns against the Ngoni in the 1830s, '40s and '50s when the Ngoni tried to invade and penetrate Nyakyusaland.
The Nyakyusa also successfully repelled the Sangu who invaded our district in the 1870s and 1880s from neighbouring Usangu
in Mbeya District. Like the Nyakyusa, the Sangu had a quite a reputation as fierce fighters. But they were no match for the
Nyakyusa who stopped their incursions into Nyakyusaland.
The few white missionaries who settled in Rungwe District also tried to intervene and act as mediators in the conflicts
not only between the Nyakyusa and the Sangu but also between the Nyakyusa and the Safwa, then the largest ethnic group in
Mbeya District until they were later outnumbered by the Nyakyusa. They also played a mediating role in other conflicts including
intra-tribal (or intra-ethnic) disputes but not always successfully.
But, besides the Nyakyusa, it was the Ngoni whom I remember the most for their reputation as fighters mainly because
I interacted with them in the sixties. Their legendary reputation as fighters sent a chill down the spine and many of their
neighbours were afraid of them, except a few like the Nyakyusa, and the Hehe who, under their leader Chief Mkwawa, once defeated
Originally from Natal Province in South Africa, the Ngoni settled in Songea District in southern Tanganyika, as
well as in Sumbawanga in the western part of the country where they came to be known as the Fipa, which is their ethnic name
and identity even today. They had a reputation as fierce fighters even in South Africa itself before they left during the
imfecane in the 1820s and '30s headed north, finally settling in what is now Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.
Some of them even went to Congo after going through Tanganyika.
I went to Songea Secondary School which was a boarding school in Songea District, the home district of the Ngoni, in
southern Tanzania and talked to many Ngonis including some who were old enough to be my parents when I was in my teens back
then in the sixties. Almost without exception, they all recalled the stories they were told by their elders when they were
growing up on how the Nyakyusa and the Ngoni fought when the Ngoni tried to invade and conquer Nyakyusaland, to no avail.
They told me that the Nyakyusa ni watani
wetu, a Swahili expression meaning they are our
friends and we tell jokes about each other. Many of those "jokes" have to do with how hard the Nyakyusa fought to repel the
Ngoni invaders after the Ngoni failed to steal Nyakyusa cows and women!
Some of the Ngoni also went to work in the mines in South Africa - where they originally came from - but not in significant
numbers as the Nyakyusa and other people from the Southern Highlands did, especially from Rungwe and Mbeya Districts in a
region bordering what was then Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia.
Northern Rhodesia itself attracted many mine workers from my region and many of them settled in that country. Even
today, you will find many Nyakyusas who settled in Kitwe and other parts of the Copperbelt many years ago after they went
to work there in the mines. For example, in 1954 the Nyakyusa in Kitwe formed an organisation to preserve, protect and promote
their interests as a collective entity.
The Lozi, members of another ethnic group from Baraotseland or Barotse Province and one of the largest in Zambia, also
formed their own organisation around the same time, as did others and some even before then including the Ngoni. And they
were all cited as examples of ethnic solidarity among the mine workers in Kitwe and other parts of the Copperbelt in Northern
Rhodesia. The Nyakyusa presence in what is now Zambia is still strong even today.
In fact, one of my mother's first cousins who was older than my mother emigrated from Tanganyika to Northern Rhodesia
as a young man in the early 1940s. He was the son of my mother's uncle Asegelile Mwankemwa who was the pastor of our church,
Kyimbila Moravian Church at Kyimbila in Rungwe District. He also lived in South Africa for a number of years before returning
to Northern Rhodesia where he eventually became a high government official after the country won independence as Zambia.
He returned to Tanzania in the 1990s to spend his last days in the land of his birth. Tragically, he had forgotten
Kinyakyusa and did not know Kiswahili after so many years of absence from Tanganyika, later Tanzania, and could communicate
only in English and Bemba, one of the major languages in Zambia. All his children were also born and brought up in Northern
And he was just one of the many people from my district who migrated to Northern Rhodesia and even some of them to
South Africa. Jobs in the mines in both countries was the biggest attraction, encouraging many Tanganyikans to go there in
The town of Mbeya was their main departure point heading south and was the largest town in the region. It was also
the capital of the Southern Highlands Province when I was growing up.
The people who had been recruited to work in the mines in South Africa boarded planes called WENELA. I remember that
name very well because I heard it all the time when I was growing up in the fifties. The people would say so-and-so has gone
to Wenela, meaning to work in the mines in South Africa. The term became an integral part of our vocabulary in the 1950s,
probably as much as it was even before then among the Nyakyusa and others.
The name WENELA was an acronym for the Witwatersrand Native Labour Association which was responsible for the recruitment
of cheap labour among Africans in neighbouring countries including Tanganyika to work in the mines in South Africa. They were
sometimes recruited to work in other sectors of the economy but primarily in the mines.
Many of the people who were recruited in Tanganyika were flown down there unlike, for example, those from Basutoland
(now Lesotho) or Bechuanaland (now Botswana) who, because of their proximity to South Africa, were transported by buses.
But many people from Tanganyika were also transported by road from Mbeya in the Southern Highlands to Broken Hill in
Northern Rhodesia. And from there they were taken to Mungu in Barotseland, the western province of Northern Rhodesia, and
then flown to Francistown in Bechuanaland; and finally transported by railway to Johannesburg.
Working in the mines was hard labour, with little pay. But it was still something for people who virtually had nothing
in terms of money. That's why they were drawn down there.
I remember my cousin Daudi worked for three years in the mines in Johannesburg. But when he came back to Tanganyika,
he hardly had anything besides a wooden box he used as a "suitcase" - and which was the only popular and common "suitcase"
among many Africans in those days - and may be a couple of shirts, two pairs of trousers, and a simple pair of shoes he wore
when he returned home. In fact, he came straight to our village, from Johannesburg, to live with us.
My father was also his father, and the only one had, since his own biological father migrated to South Africa. His
father left behind two children, Daudi himself, and his only sister, Esther, who was also younger than Daudi. Tragically,
she died only a few years after Daudi returned from South Africa.
He went to South Africa to earn some money, yet returned hardly with any. It was hard life not only for him but for
most Africans who went to work in the mines and even for those who remained in the villages.
In general the people were not starving in Tanganyika in the fifties. There was plenty of food especially in fertile
regions such as the Southern Highlands where I come from. And my home district of Rungwe is one of the most fertile in the
entire East Africa and on the whole continent. Almost anything, any kind of food, grows there: from bananas to sweet potatoes,
groundnuts to beans, and all kinds of fruits and vegetables, besides cash crops such as coffee and tea, and much more.
But the people were poor in terms of financial resources. They had very little money. And that is why some of them
went all the way to South Africa and to neighbouring Northern Rhodesia to work in the mines.
Some of them also ended up in Katanga Province, in the Congo, which is about 300 miles west from my home region of
Mbeya. With all its minerals as the treasure trove of Congo, Katanga Province was another prime destination for job seekers
from neighbouring countries who were looking for jobs in the mines.
The Nyakyusa from my home district were some of the people who ended up there. For example, I vividly remember
a photograph of a Nyakyusa family published in the Daily
News, Dar es Salaam, when I worked there as a news
reporter in the early seventies.
They had lived in Congo for about 40 years but were expelled from the country and forced to return to Tanzania in what
seemed to be a xenophobic campaign fuelled by anti-foreign sentiments in spite of the fact that members of this family, as
well as many others, had lived in Congo for decades and their children were born and brought up there.
Therefore there was quite a contrast in terms of living standards between
Africans and Europeans as well as between Africans and Asians; also between Africans and Arabs. Africans were the poorest.
But there was no hostility, at least not overt, on the part of Africans
towards whites and others in spite of such disparity in living standards; not to the extent that the social order was threatened
in a way that could have led to chaos in the country.” (Godfrey Mwakikagile, Life in Tanganyika in The Fifties, Second Edition, Continental Press, 2007,
pp. 110 – 114).
Tanzania is one of the few African countries which have been spared the agony of violent ethnic and racial convulsions
on this turbulent continent. For decades, Tanzania also has been a haven for the largest number of refugees on the continent.
In fact, it has had one of the largest refugee populations in the entire world since the 1950s.
Some of the refugees came from South Africa during the apartheid era and they lived without being harassed, intimidated
or attacked by their hosts, Tanzanians. They were welcomed with open arms. And many of them still live in Tanzania.
Ironically, some of the biggest victims of the xenophobic violence in South Africa since the end of apartheid have
been Tanzanians whose country sacrificed some much to help black people in South Africa win their freedom.
Some of the Tanzanians, like many other Africans from different parts of Africa, were married to South Africans. Therefore
for those who had some children, their children were South African by birth. Citizenship was their birth right. Yet many black
South Africans did not accept them because one of their parents was a foreigner, although just from another African country
and was therefore a fellow African.
Black South Africans also accused black African immigrants of stealing their women, on top of stealing their jobs and
even their houses. And many of them were accused of bribing local officials to get the houses even though a significant number
of them bought the houses and did not take any shortcuts to get them.
It didn't matter that the people they were attacking also had rights as fellow human beings. They had human rights
but according to their attackers they had none.
It also didn't matter that the people they were attacking came from the countries which not only sacrificed so much
in terms of material and financial support to help black South Africans who fled to those countries during apartheid; these
countries, Tanzania and others, also lost hundreds and even thousands of people during the liberation struggle when the apartheid
regime inflicted heavy punishment, and heavy casualties, on them for supporting blacks in South Africa in their quest for
And it didn't matter that many of them also had the legal right to live in South Africa. And for those who did not
have that, they were, at the very least, entitled to compassion from their hosts as fellow human beings, as fellow Africans,
and as compatriots in the liberation struggle during apartheid.
Nicole Johnson, a reporter of one of South Africa's leading newspapers, the Mail&Guardian, visited one such family – the head of the family was a Tanzanian – and had
this to say in her report published in the 24 May 2008 edition of the Mail&Guardian, entitled, “'Tell Them We're From Here'”:
battles raging on the streets of Jeppestown on Sunday (18 May 2008) couldn’t crack my journalistic composure, but Mohamed
made me cry. He’s seven years old, beautiful and sparky and he’s been driven from his home because he has a Tanzanian
Mohamed Fall was born in Johannesburg General Hospital, his mother is South African and he is in
grade 2 at John Mitchell Primary in Jeppestown.
Until Saturday night they lived in the Radium Hotel in Jeppestown.
'At night they came, they were hitting the gate. They made a big noise and they chased us,' Mohamed
says. He watched as they destroyed the hotel he has called home for most of his life. 'They broke the bar and they took the
beers and the coins and the money.'
And he watched as they tried to assault his mother, Tracy Aspelling, accusing her of being a Zimbabwean.
She survived because she is from Port Elizabeth and managed to convince them of this.
That wasn’t enough to save their home or belongings, though. 'We just left our stuff and
ran,' says Aspelling. As they ran, they saw the neighbourhood being destroyed by looters: 'They have sticks and they hit the
shops and steal clothes,' Mohamed told me. 'I think they’re sick.
'We don’t know where to sleep so we came here,' he says. Tracy is adamant that she will not
be driven out of the country. 'I was born here. I am not going anywhere.' Mohamed is less sure: 'It will happen again,' he
says matter of factly. 'I don’t feel nice -- I feel bad.'
As he sits in the courtyard of the police station on Sunday afternoon, in his neatly pressed coffee-coloured
shirt and shorts, he seems remarkably composed. Both he and his mother seem determined to continue as normal. She plans to
go to work the next day. 'I need to go to school tomorrow,' Mohamed tells me resolutely. Then his face falls as he remembers
afresh: 'They broke our house and took my uniform.'
Mohamed doesn’t go to school on Monday. The number of refugees in the police station has
New, bloodied victims continue to stream in and the police are reluctant to let anyone out. His
mother doesn’t have the money for school transport anyway -- her purse was one of the first things the mob stole. 'My
mom said I mustn’t go to school.'
Mohamed feels reassured because he is not the only one missing school -- lots more children have
turned up, including twins Annie and Rose Bofonge (8), who are in his grade 2 class at John Mitchell. They sit under a marquee
erected for mothers with children, playing clapping games and giggling. 'We only got oranges and sweets yesterday. I was hungry
at night. It was cold at night and I had only a small blanket.'
At lunchtime the food supply in the makeshift refugee camp is erratic. 'I just got food now, two
slices of bread, Mohamed says. It’s the first thing he’s eaten all day.
His mother has somehow managed to get out of the station and go to her job at a shop in the area.
She is terrified she will be replaced if she doesn’t show up and also of being unemployed and homeless. Having an income
is her only chance of rebuilding her family when this madness has passed.
As I leave, Mohamed extracts two promises from me -- that I will come see him the next day and
that I spread the word: 'Tell them we are not the foreigners. We are the South Africans.'
By Tuesday evening the children are all a lot more subdued. Days of sleeping outdoors in Jo’burg’s
winter, of overcrowding, inadequate food and nowhere to wash are taking their toll.
Mohamed’s clothes are dirty and crumpled and he appears to have lost a shoe.
A local resident has brought him a jersey to put over his short-sleeved shirt and shorts. Women
sing and dance, clapping and stamping among the towering piles of bags and belongings, trying to keep their spirits up and
to keep warm.
Mohamed’s mother sits on a bundle of someone’s possessions, her arm around her child,
staring dully at what has become her world in the past few days. They don’t feel much like talking.”
Another victim whose plight was also brought to national attention in South
Africa and elsewhere after what happened to him was reported in the same paper, the Mail&Guardian, was Percy Zvumoya, a journalist from Zimbabwe, whose country
also sacrificed so much to help black South Africans win their freedom.
And like thousands of black African immigrants who had lived in peace and harmony with their neighbours,
many of them for years, Percy Zvumoya also found out that his neighbours turned against him.
Obviously, the relative peace and harmony the black African immigrants enjoyed living with their
black South African neighbours was more apparent than real.
Little did they know that there was latent hostility towards them among their black South African
neighbours which would one day bubble to the surface and explode with dire consequences.
Percy Zvumoya's story, written by himself, was published in the 24 May 2008
edition of the Mail&Guardian under the headline, “'You Can't
Imagine The Pain”:
“I was about to retire for the night last Thursday (22 May) when a group of people came in
and said: “Get out and give us the keys to this place”. I negotiated with them and they allowed me take a few
things like clothing.
I fled from my house into the township. I came back later because I had nowhere else to go. I was
really scared, I couldn’t get back into the house and hid on the roof from where I made a call to the police.
They advised me to leave. They told me they couldn’t do much because they were stretched.
In the morning I went to my employer’s house and stayed there.
When I went back to my house the following day [Friday] they had taken my DVD player, my television
and my bed. I could only retrieve the fridge which they had not carried away. I left the fridge with friends in the township.
I came to South Africa from Zimbabwe when I was about 18, that was in 1989. But I am now a citizen,
I got my ID book last year. My wife still lives in Zimbabwe with our three children. I am here to work and to support my family.
I don’t know what I have done. I have been living well with my neighbours.
But when this broke out even my neighbours, people I have lived with for 13 years, were shouting:
“He should go. He is a Kalanga” [Kalanga is a tribe found in southern Zimbabwe and the north of Botswana]. These
are people I have lived with and they sold me out because they were jealous of the little that I had gathered.
Even if things return to normal I don’t think I can live with these people again. I don’t
think I can go back.
I built that house myself. Before it was a tin shack and rats were getting in. I thought I should
build a proper house, I built it slowly, buying a brick at a time. And now people just came and order me out. It’s painful.
I didn’t borrow from anyone to buy all these things. I earned them with the sweat of my brow.
But I guess I should forget about these things, there is nothing I can do.
I can’t understand the rationale of all this. I am a citizen of this state. I was chased
from my own home. I don’t know what I am supposed to do or where I am supposed to go.
I guess I will work again. I still have the strength. I can’t go back to Alex. Maybe I should
go back to the country of my birth. But it’s bad there too.
I was planning on my kids coming here, but not when it’s like this. There is so much suffering
in Zim-babwe, but it would be better for them to stay there.
You can’t imagine the pain I went through after my ordeal. I cried the whole night. Have
you ever cried the whole night? I thought I was going to get hypertension or something.
I talked to some people who were displaced like me. Some suggested we should douse the whole street
with petrol and burn the whole neighbourhood. I firmly said no. We can’t do that. We shouldn’t [take] revenge.
God is for us all. He is the one who should judge. You see all these kids? Can you imagine them dead? I said no. We would
hurt many innocent people who have nothing to do with this thuggery.
What I can’t understand about this is how would foreign-based South Africans react if other
countries in the world chased them away? That would be barbaric.
Do you remember that during apartheid South Africans were living in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania,
Britain and many other places? I wonder how this violence will end but I know many people will die.
Did you see the picture of the man who was burnt to death? How can women watch someone burn to
death and laugh?
Why did they give me citizenship? So that mobs burn me while some people laugh?”
Many South Africans, in condemning the violence, reminded their fellow countrymen of the sympathy and kindness South
Africans were accorded by other African countries during apartheid. As the secretary-general of the ruling African National
Congress (ANC), Gwede Mantashe, stated on Friday, 23 May 2008, one day after the violence against black African foreigners
erupted in Cape Town and 12 days after the attacks first started farther north in the township of Alexandra near Johannesburg:
“Many of us, including myself, will think of the kindness we received in
the poorest communities of Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Nigeria and many other African states.
We will recall that our neighbours were collectively punished by the apartheid regime for harbouring the cadres of
We will remember that our children were given spaces in overcrowded schools in remote rural villages, and when we were
injured and ill, the hospitals of many African countries nursed us back to health.”
He was quoted by the Mail&Guardian in its main news report, “'Deliberate
Effort' Behind Attacks,” Friday, 22 May 2008.
As an expression of solidarity with the suffering black South Africans, Tanganyika was the first country in the region
to sever links with the apartheid regime. The ties between the two countries existed during colonial rule. And she refused
to establish diplomatic and commercial ties with the apartheid regime because of her uncompromising opposition to the country's
racist policies which denied blacks and other non-whites equality.
But although Tanganyika did not allow her citizens to go to South Africa during the apartheid era after the country
won independence in 1961, she did not have much company in the region in that respect.
People from the other countries in the region never stopped going to South Africa to work in the mines after their
countries won independence. And the migratory trend has continued through the years, with even much larger numbers of them
going to South Africa after the end of apartheid.
The end of apartheid ushered the dawn of new era not only for South Africa but for the entire continent. One of the
most significant developments was the increase in immigration of a large number of people into South Africa from the other
countries on the continent, mostly those in sub-Saharan Africa.
The immigrants, legal and illegal, were drawn to South Africa by employment opportunities and better living conditions
in the most developed country on the continent. But they found out that they were not always welcome in the new South Africa.
Hostility towards black African immigrants, by black South Africans, is nothing new. Contempt for them among many black
South Africans who think they are better than other black Africans - because they are indigenous to the most developed country
on the continent - is nothing new either....
it is this kind of delusional thinking which also explains why many of them
call black Africans from other African countries makwerekwere.
The term makwerekwere
amakwerekwere says it all in terms of how they see or
how they look at other black Africans from other parts of the continent. As one South African, Boitumelo Magolego, stated
in the South African newspaper, the Mail&Guardian, in his May 2008 post in the column for
Mandela Rhodes Scholars when the xenophobic terror against black African immigrants was going on:
“Makwerekwere is used to refer to black
Africans who are not South
This word has a very negative sting to it and is often used with contempt....It has undertones
which speak of how black Africans are believed to be sub–human, too dark and have a pungent smell.
Two other words also used in this regard are grigamba and kom–ver (as in the Afrikaans kom
— each prepended with the relevant prefix ( I- for singular and Ma- for plural, for example, in the case of grigamba: igrigamba and magrigamba).
Even though these words seem new to some people, I have been hearing them as far back as I can
remember. My grandparents also say that these words have been in use for as long as they can remember.
What’s my point? The contempt with which South Africans regard black African foreigners is
not a post–democracy phenomenon....
I would like to address the ability to identify makwerekwere from a group of people.
Primarily makwerekwere are believed to have a black (as in coal black) skin complexion. They are believed to have
a pungent smell.
It is said to be such a strong smell that I have heard a number of girls
say that when walking by in a mall and it hits you, you cannot mistake it for anything but - (makwerekwere!).
I have been in a taxi where the passengers refused what was a Mozambican
national entry into the taxi, retorting “driver re na re ka se kgone” (driver the assault on our nostrils is just too much to bear).
Lastly, there is language and accent (to identify a makwerekwere).
I have conversed on multiple occasions with people from Ghana, Benin, Nigeria, DRC, Uganda, Tanzania,
Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Namibia, and I did not think nor notice that all those individuals had a particular
I have been to Kenya and I did not think nor notice the people there to have had a particular smell
(excuse the arrogance in proclaiming myself arbiter of who smells and who not).
Have I encountered this spoken of smell? Yes, I have (on multiple occasions). Do I think that all
people from Africa are dark? No, I know many individuals from these countries who have a fair complexion. The Kenyan population,
in general, I feel could pass off as “South African” - that is in terms of complexion.
Do I agree that there are some black foreigners who are a tad dark? Yes, but the same could be
said for some South Africans.”
So, there is deep contempt for black Africans from other African
countries among many black South Africans. It's nothing new, and it's not going to stop. And it amounts to another form of
apartheid – Black South Africa against the rest of Black Africa – to South Africa's detriment.
Such arrogance may have played a role in fuelling hostility towards the black immigrants but it's probably the misconception
and wrong belief that the immigrants are responsible for the poverty and suffering of black South Africans, especially in
the townships, which has been responsible for the xenophobic violence against black foreigners in South Africa more than anything
else. Bigotry against blacks from other African countries has also played a role.
After the end of apartheid, black African immigrants in South Africa were now facing a new enemy, fellow Africans who
did not want them there.
I have compiled some material to shed some light on a highly disturbing phenomenon that has developed through the years
in post-apartheid South Africa: rabid anti-foreign sentiments among many black South Africans directed against black immigrants,
legal and illegal, from other African countries who live in South Africa. Most of the material constitutes the appendix.
In many cases, anti-foreign sentiments against the Africans immigrants in South Africa involve violence including murder.
Black African immigrants in South Africa have been the victims of xenophobic violence perpetrated against them by Black
South Africans since the mid-1990s soon after apartheid ended.
Many black immigrants have been killed in South Africa through the years. A significant number of them have also been
killed in gruesome ways. Some have been tossed out of trains, hacked to death, and burned alive. Even their homes have been
torched, with all their belongings, reduced to ashes. Women have been raped. Even children have been killed.
Their attackers didn't see them as equal human human beings; they saw them as less than human. As Victor
Khupiso of The Times, Johannesburg, 24 2008, stated in its
report, about some of the people who were burned alive, entitled “'The Dog is Dead,' I Heard Them Say”:
describes horror as mob sets his brother-in-law alight.
Pictures of a man in flames, kneeling in agony on a street in Ramaphosa informal settlement, confronted
the world on television and the front pages of newspapers this week.
Ernesto Alphabeto Nhamwavane, a 22-year-old Mozambican, became the face of the horror engulfing
Gauteng as xenophobic mobs continued to drive foreigners out of their neighbourhoods this week.
Last Sunday , Nhamwavane, and his sister’s husband, Fransisco Avmando Kanze, were fleeing
the shack they shared in the settlement outside Reiger Park, east of Johannesburg.
Their neighbours had told them all Shangaan speakers were about to be attacked.
On Thursday, the Sunday Times tracked Kanze to the OR Tambo Memorial Hospital in Benoni, where
he lies with a broken hand and gashes in his head, back and legs inflicted by a machete-wielding mob.
The 29-year-old father of five spoke of how the mob left him for dead and turned to his brother-in-law
— pouring petrol on him and his belongings, setting him alight, and covering him with his own blankets and clothes to
ensure he died the worst death possible.
The men, from Nyambane village in the Mozambican province of Gaza, were both bricklayers who arrived
in South Africa in February in search of work to enable them to send money to their families.
Sunday was Kanze’s day off from the building site in Primrose where they both worked.
Nhamwavane had been at work in the morning and Kanze had been waiting so they could flee together.
Once Nhamwavane got home, they grabbed some clothes and prepared to leave.
'We were confronted by a group armed with hammers, machetes and pangas. Others had stones,' Kanze
'They stopped us and demanded to see our IDs. Then they said there was no need because our dark
skins and accents made it clear we are foreigners.'
Kanze said the mob of “over 100” people took their cellphones and the “few rands”
they had on them.
'They began attacking us, saying we are amakwerekwere (foreigners), and we are stealing and committing all sorts
of crimes in the settlement.'
The mob hacked at his and his brother-in-law’s flesh with their pangas and machetes.
'We were pleading with them to spare our lives. Blood from my head was flowing like a river. I
collapsed,' he said.
'Then they stopped attacking me, probably thinking that I was dead. I heard them saying ‘Lenja
ifile’ (the dog is dead).'
From where he lay, Kanze watched as his brother-in-law begged for his life.
'He was screaming for help, but it was as if everyone wanted a share of the assault,' he said.
'He stopped screaming and they poured petrol over him and set him on fire, spreading our clothes
around him so that the fire could spread fast.'
The smoke from Nhamwavane’s burning body drifted over to Kanze and he knew they didn’t
stand a chance. 'I believed I was going to die too.'
A local teenage girl alerted Sunday Times photographer Simphiwe Nkwali that a mob was “killing Shangaans”. Nkwali and
other photographers raced to the scene, followed by police, who put out the flames on Nhamwavane.
The two men were rushed to hospital, but Nhamwavane died on arrival, Kanze said.
'I’m grateful to the police for saving my life. I could hear them [the mob] arguing about
whether they should also set me alight. Others wanted to come and check if I was still breathing.'
On Friday, Kanze phoned his family in Mozambique to tell them what had happened.
They had learnt from other refugees that their “quiet, hard-working son” was burned
'I will recover, I will recover, but I don’t think I’ll be able to use my hand again,'
he told his weeping wife, Nhamwavane’s sister, who was begging him to come home.
And as soon as Kanze is discharged from hospital, he will do just that. 'We don’t face being
roasted alive at home,' he said.
Nhamwavane’s body lies at the Germiston mortuary and Kanze is set to accompany his South
African-based relatives to claim the body tomorrow.
'I will definitely identify the body. I know it is him. No matter how badly his body is burned.'”
Other black immigrants have also been “necklaced” with burning tyres by rampaging mobs, a tactic that became
popular in the 1970s and 1980s in the townships where many people were burned alive – tyres filled with petrol and put
around their necks – for being traitors, “spying” for the apartheid regime.
Even some policemen have accompanied the attackers. As Anderson Ingwe, a 28-year-old car mechanic from Zimbabwe, said:
“If we stay in South Africa we are killed. If we go back we will be accused
of being MDC supporters and we will be beaten or killed.
Here in South Africa we feel so unwelcome.
When the men came to attack the place where I was staying, they had policemen with them.
It is almost as though the South African
authorities want this to happen. If that is so, then they should just say peacefully: 'You are not welcome, Zimbabweans. Now
go home.' What is going on is inhuman and unfair. When I grew up in Harare there were South Africans in my class. We treated
them like our brothers.”
He was quoted by Alex Duval Smith in
his report, “Is This The End of the Rainbow Nation?” in the Mail&Guardian, Johannesburg, 25 May 2008.
immigrant, Pedro Chinavana from Mozambique, was quoted in the same report, saying: “South African blacks...have a terrible
inferiority complex. They think our skin is too dark and they call us Amakwerekwere. The police speak to us in Zulu and, if we cannot reply, they demand our rands. They say: 'You don't have rands in
your country. That is South African money. This is mine.' They think they are doing their country a favour.”
And as Alex Duval
Smith stated in the same report:
“At his office
in Central Methodist Church, Bishop Paul Verryn has become convinced that "the attacks are carefully strategised and manipulated.
The motivation is to create a sense of ungovernability.' He confirms claims that police officers have 'chaperoned' attackers.”
When the immigrants
are attacked, they don't get much help from the police if at all.
and probably many of them, also blamed the government, about which Alex Duval Smith had this to say:
immigrants see the start of a worrying trend. 'Either there is government complicity, and that is unconscionable, or the government
does not know how to react,' said writer Alois Rwiyegura, from Burundi, himself the survivor of an attack nine years ago.
'If the South African government does not know what to do, then how will it react if - as many of us fear - the violence degenerates
into inter-ethnic clashes between poor South Africans?'”
The attacks are brutal. And the message is blunt: “Get out! And Get out Now! Go back where you came from. You're
not welcome in South Africa!”
Yet the people who are being beaten, maimed, killed, and even set on fire alive, are the very same people whose countries
sacrificed so much to help black South Africans when they were groaning under apartheid.
Even a poor country like Tanzania paid an enormous price and made substantial contributions to the liberation struggle
to free South Africa and other countries in the region – Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Angola – which were
still under white domination.
Tanzania was chosen by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963 to be the headquarters of all the African liberation
movements including the African National Congress (ANC) which led the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and became
the ruling party after the end of white minority rule in that country.
Another South African liberation organisation, the Pan-Africanist Congress was also based in Tanzania as were all the
other liberation movements on the continent including the PAIGC of the Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde in
Tanzania also made enormous financial contributions towards the struggle in spite of its poverty and its president,
Julius Nyerere, was the foremost champion of the struggle against apartheid among all the African leaders. He was also chairman
of the African frontline states which spearheaded the struggle against apartheid and white minority rule in Zimbabwe, Mozambique,
Namibia and Angola.
Nyerere was even nicknamed by his fellow African heads of state as “OAU's minister of foreign affairs”
because of his indefatigable campaign for African freedom and unity.
And Tanzania's contribution to the liberation struggle was widely acknowledged. As David Martin, a renowned
British journalist who worked in Tanzania for ten years as deputy managing editor of the Tanganyika
Standard – he also worked for the London Observer - and who knew Nyerere well as much as he did all the leaders of the African liberation movements based in Tanzania's
capital Dar es salaam, stated:
“I arrived in the
Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam as a journalist on 9 January 1964.
Three days later there was a revolution in Zanzibar by the African majority against the Arab minority put in power
by the retreating British colonialists just one month earlier.
An African-driven union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar followed three months later and the country’s name was
changed to Tanzania.
Despair, hate and humiliation had begun the painfully slow process of retreating.
Dar es Salaam in those
days was the headquarters of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Liberation Committee. Living in the city were the leaders
of the liberation movements of southern Africa such as the ebullient Eduardo Mondlane from Mozambique, more taciturn poet,
Dr. Agostinho Neto, and a host of others. Nyerere was their beacon of hope.
He was uninhibited by
the paranoid attitudes that gripped the east and west at the height of the Cold War. And although he was not adverse to using
westerners to achieve his vision, he sought for the continent to have African solutions created by African people.
He did not tolerate fools
and was a masterly media manager. He could go for months without seeing the press. But, when he had something to say, as he
did in 1976 during two visits by the US Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger, he astutely ensured that his version of events
I remember one day sitting
in his office questioning that a number of African countries had not paid their subscriptions to the OAU Liberation Committee
Special Fund for the Liberation of Africa. He looked at me for some moments, thoughtfully chewing the inside corner of his
mouth in his distinctive way.
Then, his decision made,
he passed across a file swearing me secrecy as to its contents. It contained the amount that Tanzanians, then according to
the United Nations the poorest people on earth, would directly and indirectly contribute that year to the liberation movements.
I was astounded; the amount ran into millions of US dollars.
It was the practice among national leaders in those days to say that their countries did not have guerrilla bases.
Now we know that Tanzania had many such bases providing training for most of the southern African guerrillas, who were then
called ‘terrorists’ and who today are members of governments throughout the region....
Tanzania was also directly attacked from Mozambique by the Portuguese.
But, in turn, each of the white minorities in southern Africa fell to black majority political rule and Nyerere
saw his vision for the continent finally realized on 27 April 1994 when apartheid formally ended in South Africa with the
swearing in of a new black leadership.” - (David Martin, “Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere: Obituary,” Southern
African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), quoted by Godfrey Mwakikagile, Nyerere and Africa: End of an Era, Third Edition, New Africa Press, 2006, pp. 483 – 484).
Many black South Africans fled to Tanzania and other African countries and were welcomed with open arms as fellow Africans
and as brothers and sisters. They were fed, given shelter and everything else they needed or whatever their hosts could afford.
Black South Africans were also given financial, material, moral and diplomatic support in their struggle against apartheid
by fellow Africans in the independent African countries.
Now that they are free, many of them have forgotten all that. Or they have simply ignored it as if it was nothing.
Yet, without the help they got from other African countries, black people in South Africa would not have won freedom when
they did. Apartheid would probably have lasted much longer. It is very much possible they would still be suffering under apartheid
Africans from those countries are now paying another price in South Africa, losing their lives at the hands of fellow
Africans for whom they sacrificed so much in order to help them win their freedom. They are not welcome in South Africa, although
not all black South Africans feel that way.
But it is equally true that South Africa can not solve the problems of other African countries most of which are caused
by bad leadership, forcing millions of Africans to flee their home countries in search of better life elsewhere. And, unfortunately
for South Africa, that is where most of them choose to go because she is right on there on the continent, unlike Europe and
America which are beyond reach for most Africans fleeing poverty in their home countries, even risking their lives on the
way in search of greener pastures.
The blame rests squarely on African leadership which thrives on corruption and tribalism, nepotism and tyranny, and
which is equally notorious for gross mismanagement of the economy and outright incompetence. And most African leaders do everything
they can to perpetuate themselves in office, while doing nothing, in most cases absolutely nothing, for their people.
The inability to create employment for their people, including opportunities for self-employment, is one of the most
tragic results of this rotten leadership. And it is rotten to core, forcing many Africans to leave their countries and go
to South Africa – and elsewhere – to look for jobs they can't find in their own countries.
Many of them simply walk to South Africa, even if they have to walk hundreds of miles, with many of them dying on the
way, a lot of times from attacks by animals especially lions and even leopards. Some die from snake bites, diseases and other
ailments. Others simply starve to death. Still, many of them survive the ordeal and make it to South Africa.
But when they get there, the reception they get is not always what they expected to get.
The attacks on African immigrants in South Africa are dire warning of things yet to come. The worst has not happened
yet. They could escalate into a full bloodbath, nationwide, unless something is done to avert a probable catastrophe.
It may even be too late already. As the Sowetan, the biggest and most influential black newspaper in South Africa, bluntly stated in its 19 May 2008 edition:
“Now it's war.”
The worst violence against black African immigrants took place in May 2008. It was on scale never
seen before since the end of apartheid.
But there is no question that xenophobic attacks have taken place in many parts of the country
through the years including the nation's capital Pretoria. .
The attacks in Atteridgeville and Mamelodi near Pretoria occurred more than two months before the
xenophobic violence of May 2008.
But other attacks took place before then, including one in which a Nigerian immigrant was brutally
murdered in the streets of Pretoria some years before then simply because he was a foreigner.
Other attacks in May 2008 took place in Tembisa (Thembisa) which is part of Midrand; Alexandra
north of Johannesburg in Sandton; Johannesburg; Actionville; Cleveland; Diepsloot; Zenzele settlement in Springs; Reiger Park
in Boksburg; Soweto, and other places before then.
And there were ominous signs that this wave of terror against black African immigrants would sweep
across the country when it spread to other provinces besides Gauteng.
Attacks against the immigrants also took place in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal provinces.
Properties owned by Somalis were reduced to ashes in Mpumalanga Province,
and some owned by Nigerians were destroyed in Durban in KwaZulu/Natal Province. According to a report in the Sowetan, on Wednesday, 21 May 2008, on the attacks on Nigerians and other foreigners
in KwaZulu/Natal Province entitled “42 Dead, 16,000 Displaced by Xenophobia”:
“Violence has begun spreading for the first time outside Gauteng province - into KwaZulu-Natal
Mpumalanga police said the shack-burning and looting targeted at foreigners began there on Tuesday,
and in KwaZulu-Natal, police were monitoring Durban’s Dalton Road area after an attack on a Nigerian-owned tavern.
Constable Sibusiso Mbuli told Sapa on Wednesday that about 200 foreigners had sought refuge at
Leslie police station on Tuesday night after tuckshops were looted there, and in Embalenhle....
KwaZulu-Natal’s premier, Sbu
Ndebele, visited the Crippled Cock tavern on Durban’s Umbilo Road today, where he said that criminals wanted 'to clothe
their criminality with xenophobia.'
The tavern was ransacked overnight
by a mob who told the tavern owner and his staff — most of whom are also Nigerian — to 'go home'....
The attack on the tavern followed a
local branch meeting of the IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party) on Tuesday night and a standoff involving police on Wednesday morning
as the mob confronted residents of the Khayalitsha Lodge hostel — a privately run hostel housing large numbers of foreign
On Wednesday morning (21 May 2008),
after police had intervened and stopped the throwing of bottles, residents could be seen leaving the hostel carrying their
As they left, residents from the Dalton
Men’s hostel across the road hung out the windows and shouted abuse at the departing Zimbabweans, Malawians and Mozambicans.”
Mpumalanga borders Gauteng Province, and the violence which erupted in that province
was directly linked to the xenophobic attacks in Gauteng. As reported by a South African newspaper, the Independent, in its edition of 22 May 2008, “Xenophobia Spills Over
The xenophobia in Gauteng spilled over
into Mpumalanga on Wednesday.
'When we got to Extension 16 (of of Embalenhle), we found that two shops and a car belonging to
a Somalian businessman had been burnt to ashes,' said Evander police spokesperson Constable Sibusiso Mbuli.
While police attended that scene, they were informed of violent outbreaks occurring in nearby Leslie
and had to call for back-up to be sent there.
The Somalian businessman, Ahmed Ali, 26, and other foreigners were taken to Evander police station
for their own safety.
"I don't know where to go now because I lost everything I have worked for since I came to the country
four years ago," he said.
The only thing he could salvage was a fridge, which is with him at the police station.
'I'm lucky that I survived. I managed to escape when I heard them chanting violent songs at my
gate. I ran outside and sought cover. I can't go back to Somalia because there is war and poverty there. It would be better
if the South African government provided a piece of land on which foreigners could live in peace,' he said.
A Zimbabwean woman, Martha Sibanda, 26, has been in South Africa since 1993 selling hand-made table
cloths to feed her family back in Zimbabwe. Her three-year-old daughter has a South African father and was born here.
'I don't see myself going back to Zimbabwe. My life is here in South Africa. I'd rather die of
hunger here at the police station while waiting for the violence to stop,' said Sibanda.
Mbuli said seven suspects had been arrested
in connection with the act of arson.
The suspects will appear in the Evander magistrate's court today on charges of arson, malicious
damage to property, common assault and public violence.
'Most of the people involved in this whole mess are unemployed youth,' said Mbuli.
'They steal the foreigners' belongings and then sell them cheaply on the black market.'
He said the victims would be kept at the police station until the situation was calm. In Komatipoort,
Mozambican Armando Matsinhe, 31, said he did not want to see any South Africans in Mozambique when he returns.
'We are going to make sure that they get the same treatment. I've left my job and lost two friends
who have been killed,' he said.
Komatipoort police are patrolling the Hectorspruit and Komatipoort railway stations to ensure the
safety of the Mozambicans before they take a taxi to the Lebombo border post.”
Even the capital Pretoria was not spared. Besides the attacks which took place in the informal
settlement of Atteridgeville in the nation's capital, there were also attacks in Mabopane and Marabastad outside Pretoria.
Xenophobic violence was also unleashed in the townships of Gugulethu
and Langa in Cape Town in the Western Cape Province and in some townships in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape Province,
hundreds of miles away from the Johannesburg area where it all started.
When the attacks were going on, some
Zimbabweans and other black African immigrants in Cape Town said it could not happen in Cape Town since they got along just
fine with the local people.
They were just deluding themselves.
Within two days, violence erupted in Cape Town. As BBC Africa reported, “SA Violence Spread to Cape Town,” on
Friday, 23 May 2008:
“Violence against foreigners
in South Africa spread to Cape Town overnight with people assaulted and shops looted.
The attacks broke out after a meeting
called to prevent anti-foreigner violence in the Dunoon township.
'Groups within the crowd started to
loot shops owned by Zimbabweans and other foreigners,' police spokesman Billy Jones told AFP news agency....
More than 40 people have died and some
15,000 people have sought shelter since the violence initially flared up in the Johannesburg township of Alexandra almost
two weeks ago.
There are fears that the unrest could
have longer term consequences for the country.
Moeketski Mosola, head of South Africa
Tourism, told the BBC the government is alarmed by the situation, especially as they are preparing to host the football World
Cup in 2010.
'We are extremely concerned about the
situation on the ground, you must remember that 67% of the tourists coming into South Africa are mainly African,' he told
the BBC's World Tonight programme.
Cape Town is the hub of South Africa's
There have also been new attacks in
Strand, east of Cape Town, Durban and North-West province, where three people, reportedly from Pakistan, were stabbed and
dozens of Mozambican and Somali nationals displaced.
On Thursday 22 May 2008), troops were
deployed to quell attacks - the first time soldiers have been used to stamp out unrest in South Africa since the 1994 end
'Some people were assaulted, but mostly
shops were looted,' Mr Jones said.
A Nigerian shopkeeper told Die Burger
newspaper that eight people stormed into his shop.
'They took everything, everything,'
Thursday night's unrest (in Cape Town)
has prompted some 500 people, including Somalis, Mozambicans and Nigerians, as well as Zimbabweans to flee their homes, some
seeking refuge in police stations.
Cape Town first witnessed xenophobic
attacks two years ago when the Somali community - especially those who owned shops - were targeted and some murdered.
Durban also witnessed unrest earlier
Mozambique's president has urged his
compatriots not to respond to the attacks.
His government has also mobilised emergency
services normally used for natural disasters to cope with the exodus of an estimated 10,000 Mozambicans from South Africa.
The BBC's Karen Allen says there have
been chaotic scenes and scuffles at a Johannesburg police station, as Mozambicans tried to scramble on board buses laid on
by their embassy to take them home.
Some Zimbabweans are also going home,
preferring to risk the violence there than stay in South Africa.
One Zimbabwean woman told the BBC she
had decided to return home from Johannesburg after seeing a series of xenophobic attacks.
The 36-year-old woman said she had
seen an armed gang douse a Mozambican immigrant with petrol and throw him into his burning shack.
'The screams of the burning Mozambican
still haunt me. When I close my eyes to try to sleep, I see the man screaming for help. But no-one helps him,' she said.
'I have never seen such barbarism.'
In its weekly newsletter, the ruling
party African National Congress (ANC) Youth League says the government has not done enough to stop 'this anarchy.'”
Police Superintendent Andre Traut in
Cape Town also said shops were looted and burnt in Du Noon squatter settlement and in Kraaifontein outside Cape Town, as well
as the city's largest township, Khayelitsha, where an estimated one million people live.
The youth wing of the ruling African
National Congress (ANC) was right when it described the situation as anarchy.
The situation in many parts of the
country which had been rocked by this kind of violence had indeed degenerated into anarchy during those dark days, clearly
demonstrated by the inability and sometimes even the unwillingness by the police forces to stop the attacks.
The attacks in the Cape Province followed
virtually the same pattern of violence that had erupted earlier in other provinces. Once violence starts in one place, it
erupts in another, then another, and another.
In the Cape Province, attacks in Cape
Town were followed by other acts of violence against the black African immigrants in other parts of the province. As reported
by the Times, Johannesburg, 23 May
2008, “Threats of Xenophobic Attacks – Knysna”:
of xenophobic attacks in Knysna, in the Western Cape, sent foreigners fleeing the White Location township to seek refuge at
the local police station yesterday.
Captain Malcolm Pojie said they had increased the police presence in the area after foreigners were threatened with violence.”
threats were followed by violence against African immigrants in Knysna after some of the foreigners were attacked in Cape
Town, the largest city in the province and the second-largest in the country after Johannesburg/ According to the Times, 23 May 2008, “Violence Reaches Cape Town”:
violence in South Africa has flared in the city of Cape Town for the first time, police said today, as troops and police appeared
to quell the unrest in the hotspot of Johannesburg.
attacks against immigrants and foreign-owned shops in a slum area of picturesque Cape Town, a major draw for tourists which
had so far been spared the mob violence seen in Johannesburg....
for the Cape Town area Billy Jones said a public meeting in the Du Noon slum area 20 kilometres north of the city degenerated
into violence yesterday evening.
the crowd started to loot shops owned by Zimbabweans and other foreigners,' he told AFP, saying 500 had since fled the area
and were staying in community centres.
'Some people were
assaulted, but mostly shops were looted.'
Police also reported
pockets of overnight unrest in Durban in the KwaZulu Natal region and in North West province. Problems have also been seen
in the central area of Free State....
The violence, which
has done untold damage to South African’s reputation as the Rainbow Nation, is also taking its toll on the country’s
This was also one
of the first news reports saying xenophobic incidents had also occurred in the Free State Province, one of the last three
– together with Limpopo Province and the Northern Cape Province – to join the rest in this wave of hate and terror
against black African immigrants.
But the xenophobic
hysteria and terror assumed another dimension when a large number of the attackers also targeted fellow South Africans who
were members of other tribes. The attackers who spearheaded the campaign in the Johannesburg area, including the township
of Alexandra were Zulu.
They told fellow
South Africans who were members of other tribes to go back to their regions. And the attacks were well-orchestrated. They
were not random acts of violence.
the victims were the Venda, Pedi and Shangaan, all South African ethnic groups. But the primary target was the foreign black
African community. They were first attacked in Alexandra, a black township north of Johannesburg. As Nosimilo Ndlovu stated
in a report in the Johannesburg Mail&Guardian, Friday, 16 May 2008, headlined,
“”'They Must Leave or Die'”:
with community meetings about crime and taxis and ended in an orgy of xenophobic violence that tore one of Johannesburg's
oldest townships apart.
the days before mobs swept through Alexandra a meeting blamed foreigners for a recent spike in crime in the township and complained
that the police were not taking action.
Tuesday May 6:
During a meeting
residents threatened to take matters into their own hands and remove foreigners from the area, according to Alexandra Community
Police Forum (ACPF) chairperson Thomas Sithole. Sithole said police assured residents they would deal with the issue.
Saturday May 10:
Then the renegade Alexandra Residents Association (ARA) held a meeting with taxi drivers to discuss
concerns that foreigners were taking over the taxi industry.
Taxi drivers were
unhappy about the growing number of foreigners working in the industry. They said foreigners were taking away their jobs and
were willing to work for lower wages.
the Zimbabwe Diaspora Forum, Sox Chikowero, who attended the meeting, says people accused Zimbaweans of driving crime in the
area and "taking away our jobs and our women". Chikowero said it was agreed that non-nationals would be driven from the township.
Sunday May 11:
By nightfall mobs
were rampaging through Alex.
a young Zimbabwean woman, said she was asleep on Sunday night when a group of men stormed into her shack and demanded that
she and her boyfriend pack their bags and leave. 'They beat us up and told us to make sure that when they return we are no
longer here or they would kill us.'
Afraid and confused,
Sibanda and her boyfriend ran to seek refuge with their South African neighbours. But the mob returned and found them again.
"They knew where we were. When I saw them come in I was afraid for my life. They grabbed me and said they were going to rape
me, and I could do nothing." Sibanda's neighbour pleaded with the gang not to rape her, saying that they were mistaken: she
was the neighbour's daughter and not a foreigner. "That's when they let me go. I was lucky," said Sibanda.
In the violence
that evening two people were killed -- one reportedly a local who refused to join the mob. Dozens were injured, women were
raped and houses destroyed. Over the coming days, the toll would rise.
Monday May 12:
By afternoon the
tension was palpable. Accompanied by police and sympathetic neighbours, Zimbabweans and other foreigners went to see what
could be rescued from the piles of wood and broken glass that used to be their homes.
Women bravely gathered
the remains of their cutlery, bedding and clothes.
In the background
angry young men with bloodshot eyes and reeking of alcohol walked around swinging knobkieries, spears, golf clubs and other
They cursed the
now homeless foreigners. 'You better be out of here by seven tonight or we will kill you,' said a young man holding two golf
clubs and a bottle of beer. There was no reaction from the victims or the police escorting them.
By this time, the
crisis had taken on a distinctly ethnic flavour. The area at the centre of the violence is known as Zulu territory, dominated
by the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).
As in the Eighties
when township residents were pitted against hostel dwellers, the area around London Road and 5th Avenue had become a no-go
area for outsiders.
A loudspeaker announced
a meeting in the KwaMadala area near Nobuhle hostel, in the heart of IFP territory. Led by a police van, party officials arrived
in a light commercial vehicle, promising to listen to the grievances of the people. They had been stung by accusations that
the IFP had orchestrated the violence.
A crowd gathered,
carrying golf clubs, sticks and other weapons, and followed the IFP leaders singing: 'Lelizwe elethu, aba hambe' (this country
is ours - they [foreigners] should leave).
About 200 people
gather in an open space between the hostel and informal settlement. IFP MP (Member of Parliament) Bongikosi Dlamini told the
crowd his party is not behind the orgy of violence. 'As the IFP, we are here to make it clear that we condemn these attacks
and are here to ask you not to go around attacking people in the IFP's name.'
But Dlamini was
quick to add that the IFP understood the frustrations of the people 'as indeed the government has failed you, but you should
not continue these attacks as opportunistic criminals will take advantage and you, as South Africans, would end up fighting
against each other.'
Sam Thembe, a shopkeeper,
told the MP: 'It hurts that they are leaving, as business people we gain from them, but they are criminals. Sometimes I close
the shop late and I see them breaking into peoples houses, they should leave.'
A middle-aged resident
agreed: 'Our brothers from Mozambique and Zimbabwe should go back home or else we pick up spears and guns …'
He was interrupted
by residents lifting their weapons and shouting in unison: 'Ama kalanga awahambe noma afe.' (The foreigners must leave or
the crowd, saying: 'As the IFP we understand your frustrations, however, our Constitution says South Africa is a South Africa
for all, which means everyone including the foreigners are welcome.'
He adds: 'The IFP
argued that the Constitution should, in fact, say South Africa is a South Africa for all that were born in it, however, the
ANC, as usual, did not listen to us.'
As time goes on,
the discussion gets hotter and hotter. The MP can offer nothing more than 'discussions.'
Many say Alex is
the last place they expected this kind of violence to erupt. It is known as multi-cultural and multi-national, a melting pot
where South Africans and foreigners from different race and ethnic groups have lived together for years. One life-long resident,
25-year-old Thandi Madlala, says she has always had Mozambican neighbours, 'and it's never been an issue.'
But fingers are
being pointed at the ARA (Alexandra Residents Association), who were involved in the meeting that brought xenophobic hatred
to the boil. The ARA is accused of orchestrating the violence and encouraging the idea that foreigners should be driven out.
Sithole of the
community police forum said it was at the ARA meeting on Saturday that a decision was taken to 'drive foreigners away.'
He said the forum
had had problems with the association before and said it had masqueraded as part of the ACPF in order to gain support from
Sithole of the
community police forum said it was at the ARA meeting on Saturday that a decision was taken to "drive foreigners away". He
said the forum had had problems with the association before and said it had masqueraded as part of the ACPF in order to gain
support from the community.
the Zimbabwean Diaspora Forum said the original intention of the meeting had been taxi-related. But, other issues had cropped
up and a criminal element had hijacked the initiative for their own ends, looting, pillaging and rampaging through the township.
Thursday May 15:
By the afternoon
residents were carting away doors and scrap metal from a ransacked warehouse where Zimbabweans and Mozambicans used to live.
The body of a Mozambican had just been discovered, but it was starting to feel like no one is safe in the township. There
were reports of gangs targeting Vendas, Shangaans and Xhosas, and there were fears of reprisals.
(23), originally from KwaZulu-Natal, was refusing to listen to police who told her to pack up her belongings and leave for
her own safety. 'I am not going anywhere. I belong here. I am from Nkandla.'”
by a member of parliament from the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Bongikosi Dlamini, did not help.
They could very well have been interpreted
as tacit approval or encouragement of what some of the people of Alexandra were doing to drive foreigners out of their community
and out of the country; especially when he said that his party, the IFP, wanted the South African constitution to explicitly
stipulate that South Africa belonged only to those who were born in South Africa, although there is no guarantee the party
meant including children of foreigners. But he clearly ruled out foreigners becoming South Africans even by naturalisation.
The people who carried out the attacks,
as well as their supporters, falsely claimed and may be even believed that they were under siege, flooded or swamped by a
wave of foreigners. And they developed a fortress mentality to justify the xenophobic campaign they orchestrated against the
black African immigrants.
Their siege mentality was a product
of the anger and resentment they harboured against the immigrants in their communities and in other parts of the country.
And all this anger and resentment –
and hate - was bound to boil over at the slightest provocation including lies about foreigners simply because they did not
want them in their country.
The result was bloodshed, at the expense
of black African immigrants, although some black South Africans were also targeted in this vicious campaign.
The immigrants were stripped of everything
except the clothes they had on and a few other belongings they could salvage or were able to carry away when they could; for
example, just before the attacks when some of them were warned to leave – or die! As Percy Zvumoya stated in his report
in the Mail&Guardian, 16 May 2008, “Death by Starvation or Butchery”:
a one-way ticket back to Zimbabwe' is the chorus of the hundreds of displaced people huddled at the Alexandra police station,
in fear of their lives.
The police station
teems with scores of aid workers, journalists and displaced foreigners from Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique.
The victims of
the xenophobic attacks are dishevelled and dirty, having slept in the open at the police station since Sunday. Some have managed
to rescue a bag or a bicycle, but most escaped with only the clothes on their bodies. Now they long to be among familiar people
who speak familiar tongues.
For Knowledge Mutisi,
a 21-year-old Zimbabwean, their ordeal started with a knock on the door late on Sunday.
He said a group
of men barged into his shack and demanded money and cellphones from him and his friends before beating them up. As they fled
'a gun was fired and one of us was shot in the leg.'
They dare not go
back, he says, sitting on a grey blanket handed out by the Red Cross.
Mutisi left Zimbabwe
last year after the death of his parents, jumping the border to follow his uncle to Alexandra. Recurring droughts and the
farm invasions had put an end to employment on the tea farms around Birchenough Bridge.
He is not sure
what he will do now - a life of poverty in rural Zimbabwe is unbearable, but staying in South Africa seems like certain death.
There is a sense
that if the choice is starvation or being butchered, they would rather die at home, where their ancestors are buried. 'Tell
them we want transport. We want to go back home.'
Kholani Dube, who
wears a Zion Christian Church cap, speaks in a weary voice. He has lost everything, but shows a surprising understanding of
his attackers. 'We don't blame them, but they should realise that we are not fighting them. We are just trying to get by.'
and Gift Sithole, from Chipinge in eastern Zimbabwe, sit ashen-faced, scooping out baked beans from a can onto a piece of
Gift removes his
heavy woollen hat to reveal a head full of stitches. "They beat me with a metal rod," he says. His brother Daniel says they
don't feel safe even at the police station, as mobs have come into the station and ordered them to leave. 'What's there to
stop them from throwing a petrol bomb or something into this enclosure?' he asks. Daniel insists home - however hard - is
where he wants to be.
But Sox Chikowero,
chairperson of the Zimbabwe Diaspora Forum, warns against rushing back to Zimbabwe. 'That's not a solution. You can't go back
to Zimbabwe now,' he told the terrified group. 'You will be targets of the militias that the government is using to cow the
opposition. A person who has come from South Africa will obviously be targeted.'”
But thousands of
them insisted on going back to Zimbabwe, and they did. And the attacks continued in the Johannesburg area when the victims
of the violence were waiting to board buses (or even fly) back home – to Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania,
Congo, Angola, Rwanda, Burundi and other parts of Africa. And they all feared they could be attacked anytime even at the shelters
where they had sought refuge from the violence.
Among all the victims,
Zimbabweans were probably in the most vulnerable position if they returned to their home country because of the political
and economic situation in Zimbabwe.
they had choice: stay in South Africa and get killed or go back to Zimbabwe and suffer extreme hardship in a country whose
economy had collapsed and possibly get killed for having left their home country, branded as “traitors” by the
government and as supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The alternative was unthinkable, yet
life in South Africa had become intolerable. As Dickson Jere stated in his report in the Johannesburg Mail&Guardian, 14 May 2008, three days after the violence against black African immigrants erupted in Alexandra
the spiralling post-election violence in his native Zimbabwe, Given Sithole never imagined he would now be fearing for his
life in what he saw as the safety of neighbouring South Africa.
With tears dripping
from his swollen right eye, Sithole recounts how he came to be among several hundreds of immigrants caught in recent xenophobic
attacks in Alexandra, north of Johannesburg.
The attacks have
left three people dead and several dozens injured since they broke out at the start of the week.
'I do not know
what has befallen me,' said 25-year-old Sithole, who nearly lost his life in March after militias attacked him in the aftermath
of the Zimbabwe elections for supporting the opposition.
and frail, Sithole has no kind words for the South Africans who had thought would provide him a safe haven after falling foul
of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's hard-line supporters.
'I really thought
life will be better here. These people are bad, they have no respect for fellow human beings,' he said.
Sithole is among
the over 200 immigrants, temporarily sheltered at a local police station, after they were displaced in violent xenophobic
attacks, which have become increasingly common in South Africa.
"We have just moved
in to help these people. The situation is getting desperate," said Mathews Ntamote, a South African Red Cross official found
distributing relief food to the displaced foreigners.
A gang of South
African youths, armed with machetes and guns, were making the rounds in Alexandra, looking for foreigners whom they accused
of crime and taking their jobs.
"They have a list
of all foreigners and they are moving from door to door ...," said Jane Mauzi, a 46 year-old Mozambican who came to do business
in South Africa two years ago.
'I just want to
go back home,' she said, before breaking down in tears.
The violence in
Alexandra is the latest chapter in a series of attacks on foreigners in South African townships, whose residents bear the
brunt of an unemployment rate touching 40% and some of the worst levels of crime anywhere in the world.
Many locals are
quick to blame the newcomers
'They should go
back to their countries. They come to get our jobs here,' said taxi driver Sipho Zulu.
in South Africa give jobs to foreigners. They believe foreigners work harder than South Africans.'
The bulk of the
immigrants who have flooded South Africa in recent years are from neighbouring Zimbabwe. Three million are believed to have
fled an economic meltdown under Mugabe characterised by 80% unemployment and the world's highest rate of inflation.
Anna Moyo, spokesperson
of the Zimbabwe Exiles' Forum, said the attacks on foreigners were unfortunate, especially since black South African lived
in neighbouring countries during apartheid without problems.
'They should learn
to appreciate and co-exist with others. The South African government should take up this issue as a matter of urgency,' said
Makwerekwere is a derogatory term widely used by South Africans to describe immigrants, but the government
said it was doing everything possible to deal with the situation.
'It is a problem,
but I would never define it as a crisis. A concern that we as government are very worried about,' said Charles Nqakula, Safety
and Security Minister.
Last month, South
African President Thabo Mbeki urged his countrymen to stop xenophobic attacks as foreigners continue to be killed and displaced
by mobs who blame them for crime and unemployment.
'As South Africans,
we should refuse to be part of the unnecessary attacks on innocent people merely because they happen to be foreigners,' the
president said on the 14th anniversary of the country's first democratic elections after the fall of the racially oppressive
Besides the violence
in Alexandra - where it all started in May 2008 as the latest wave of violence against foreigners - and other parts of Johannesburg,
similar attacks occurred in other parts of the country, although the Xhosa and members of other tribes who had some conflicts
with the Zulu in Alexandra also attacked foreigners; for example, in the Eastern Cape Province, the ethnic stronghold of the
Xhosa where some members of the Xhosa ethnic group targeted black African immigrants.
The Xhosa, together
with the Zulu, were also involved in attacking black foreigners in Johannesburg, Cape Town and other parts of the Western
There were also
some members of some South African ethnic groups which straddle the border with Mozambique, especially the Shangaan, who were
attacked in this xenophobic campaign.
If they were Shangaan
from Mozambique, they were told to get out! Many were even attacked before they got the chance to leave South Africa and go
back to Mozambique. And their attackers were proud of what they were doing.
saw it as a second liberation of their country, this time from fellow Africans from other parts of Africa, after getting freedom
from apartheid with the help of the same people they were now attacking and telling them to go back to their countries which
sacrificed so much to free black South Africans. As Thembelihle Tshabalala and Monako Dibetle stated in their report, “Inside
The Mob,” in the Mail&Guardian, 22 May 2008:
Langa (20) says he is a proud xenophobe whose greatest satisfaction would be to see all 'Shangaans go back to where they came
He means Mozambican Shangaans. 'It’s
war I tell you; it’s South Africa versus Maputo.'
Langa is sitting in the back seat of
our car as we speed through the rubble and ash from burnt tyres in the Ramaphosa informal settlement, near Reiger Park on
the East Rand.
He is one of the machete-wielding,
gun-toting youngsters who have taken over the shacktown’s maze of alleyways in a campaign of terror against makwerekwere.
On Wednesday evening (21 March 2008)
Ramaphosa exploded in flames once again, bringing the total number of deaths since the spate of xenophobic attacks started
During the day they keep a low profile,
hiding among the crowds and avoiding the attention of the large police contingent.
The battles begin at night. Langa says
he and his friends have not slept since last Friday, 'when the war began.'
He explains that on May 6 it was discovered
that two women residents had been 'killed by foreigners.' The community called a meeting to discuss the deaths and decided
'We hadn’t planned to launch
an attack on foreigners like the people in Alexandra did, but this incident made us very angry,' he said, clutching a hammer
under his torn shirt.
Langa said Ramaphosa has always had
a problem with makwerekwere, who are taking people’s jobs and reaping the benefits of 'our freedom.'
Every evening community members meet
to share ideas on which homes to raid and burn. 'We go out together in groups, men and women, break into the Shangaans’
houses and we beat them and take what we want. If it’s a shack we burn it; if it’s a house we take the keys.
'These people own RDP houses, which
some of us don’t even have,' he complained. He had moved into a house formerly owned by a Mozambican national.
'I’ve put a ‘for sale’
sign on it and I’ll sell it for R3,000.'
Langa claimed he could tell the difference
between a Shangaan-speaker from Mozambique and one from Giyani in Limpopo. 'We just ask them Zulu words that any South African
knows. If they get it wrong we hit them.'
Another lynch-mob leader, Thabang Mokolane
(21), told the Mail & Guardian that foreigners are more criminally inclined than South Africans and they get away
with crime because they can afford to pay chocho (bribes).
'We’re afraid to walk at night
because we fear being mugged by these people,' said Mokolane. 'We’re also tired of white people thinking that we’re
criminals when these people are worse than us.'
Mokolane said residents from the neighbouring
Slovo squatter camp are rallying behind the Ramaphosa mobs and have joined forces with them in carrying out attacks.
The M&G (Mail&Guardian) also interviewed migrant workers
living in the Madala hostel in Alexandra and the Wolhuter hostel in Jeppe, from where attacks on foreigners have been widely
In Alexandra Shangaan, Venda and Pedi
residents said they were attacked by “Zulus”. The same claim was made by immigrants assaulted in Jeppe and the
Johannesburg CBD over the weekend. Jeppe Station commander Danie Louw told the M&G on Sunday that the violence
appeared to be emanating from the George Goch, Wolhuter and Denver hostels.
Hostel indunas angrily denied that
'the Zulus are behind the xenophobic attacks.' But Duma Mncube, an induna at Madala, said that certain young hostel-dwellers
might have taken matters into their own hands after being falsely accused.
Despite the denials the hostellers’
intense hatred of foreigners, coupled with their fortress mentality and sense of being victimised, was clear.
'South Africans have come out to express
themselves against overcrowding and the loss of jobs because of the growing number of foreigners. It’s not a Zulu matter,
it’s for all South Africans,' said Mncube.
Mncube said immigrants had taken over
the jobs Zulus traditionally dominated, such as security. Many Zimbabweans had military experience, which gave them an advantage
in that industry.
He also said that foreigners were moving
into the taxi trade, where many Zulu speakers work. “But that does not mean they should be beaten up or killed,”
Mncube hinted at the hostel-dwellers’
deep sense of grievance, saying their lives had not changed since the fall of apartheid and government upliftment projects
had not borne fruit.
The Alexandra renewal project had not
affected their living conditions and they were angry at being left out. 'We’re being treated like foreigners in our
own country while the foreigners are having a nice time,' he said
Bheki Ntshangase, a Madala resident
who works as a security guard, said the hostels forced people to live in isolation from the surrounding community. The Alexandra
community regarded the hostel as an “island” and none of them dared venture into it.
'Zulus are treated like outcasts and
the whole nation is undermining us. That’s why they say we’re behind the xenophobic attacks,' he said.
Jeppe hostel induna Simon Mvelase said
hostel residents are perturbed that the media is defending foreigners while South African locals are strangers in their own
“We condemn the killings and
beatings, but at the same time we condemn the government for allowing foreigners to do as they please in our land.
The people of South Africa have spoken,
Zulu, Xhosa or Sotho. They are revolting against foreigners who are making their lives difficult by taking jobs and increasing
crime and corruption.
'What makes the foreigner so lucky
and special? How do they get the houses, the jobs, the cars and the businesses?' Mvelase raged.
He said the government should have
woken up a long time ago. If the maize price increased and people lost their jobs to foreigners, there had to be a revolt.
'Our fellow South Africans are busy
calling us hostel-dwellers. We aren’t -- we’re South African citizens like them.'
The toll as it stands
Since the xenophobic attacks in Johannesburg’s
Alexandra township on May 11, violence has cut a swathe through Gauteng and spread to other provinces. The toll to date includes:
Outbreaks of xenophobic violence in
at least eight places in Gauteng, including Bophelong in the Vaal Triangle, Kagiso on the West Rand, Johannesburg central,
Thokoza, Primrose and Reiger Park on the East Rand.
Similar eruptions took place in Leslie
in Mpumalanga, Umbilo in Durban, Brits in the North West and Durbanville in Cape Town.
Forty-two foreigners have been killed
27 000 have been displaced by violence.
400 people have been arrested, according
to police spokesperson Govindsamy Mariemuthoo.”
But that was not
the end of it. The toll continued to climb in the next few days.
of these attacks, which occurred after the vicious xenophobic campaign carried out in the Johannesburg area, may have been
attributed to a copy-cat syndrome. But the core of this campaign was hatred of black foreigners by black South Africans who
– wrongly – felt that they had been invaded by fellow Africans from other parts of Africa. It amounted to ethnic
cleansing. And it is far from over. The fact that it was methodical is even more frightening. As Nicole Johnston stated in
her report in the Mail&Guardian, Johannesburg, 16 May 2008, “Copy-cat
wave of pogroms that saw foreigners fleeing Alexandra this week, clutching at the tattered remnants of their lives, should
surprise no one. Xenophobic attacks have been growing in ferocity and frequency. In just the past three months Gauteng has
witnessed a wave of attacks from Itereleng to Atteridgeville and from Alex to Diepsloot.
A pattern is emerging:
a mob is organised, foreigners are beaten, raped and even killed. Their business are plundered and razed. They are driven
out of their homes and their attackers move in, commandeering houses and possessions. As an ethnic cleansing strategy, it
works remarkably well -- once the dust has settled and the media and the politicians have gone away, victims are too terrified
and traumatised to move back into the area.
'The modus operandi
is the same,' says Jody Kollapen, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission (HRC). There will be a wave of public condemnation
and outrage, but there will also be a high level of fear and intimidation, preventing victims from returning. 'They [attackers]
have made personal gains. And they have succeeded in what they set out to do so they just ride out the public storm.'
Kollapen also fears
that there is a copy-cat element in the attacks.
Wednesday afternoon Kollapen told the Mail & Guardian, "My concern is that
there may be other Alexandras and Atteridgevilles waiting to erupt. In a depressed social climate it is easy to whip up feelings
of exclusion and marginalisation and redirect these to non-nationals." Within hours of him saying this Diepsloot went up in
flames, allegedly at the hands of the same people who organised the Alex attacks.
Xenophobia may have been the spark that set Alex alight this week, but joblessness, crime, a lack
of service delivery and soaring prices provided the kindling.
Loren Landau of
the Forced Migration Studies programme at the University of the Witwatersrand points out that 'in some instances, local leaders
have blamed foreigners to deflect criticism around the lack of jobs and service delivery.'
Lashing out at
foreigners is rather like domestic violence, he says: 'A man who loses his job may go home and beat his wife. He'll feel better
for five minutes, but in the morning his wife is bruised and he still doesn't have a job.'
No one denies that
there is competition for scarce resources, but the pressure is being felt most by those with the least resilience to economic
shocks -- the poorest of the poor.
Poor vs poor
The truth is that impoverished migrants, fleeing political or economic disaster, do not move into
the suburbs. They move into already overcrowded squatter camps and townships, where survival is a daily struggle. 'Poor black
people are directing their anger against other poor black people,' says Kollapen.
'An influx of people
who have skills and are willing to work do represent competition for people in the township who -- because of Bantu education
and apartheid -- are not equipped to compete,' says Landau.
But the scapegoating
is often based on misconceptions and deliberate distortions, such as the claim that foreigners are stealing jobs, houses and
even women. Most migrants can't enter formal employment without a South African identity book, so they often set up small
businesses. This leads to jealousy when locals see these foreign businesses thriving. Similarly, the perception is that migrants
are jumping the queue for houses.
'Many South Africans
get RDP [reconstruction and development programme] houses and then rent them out to foreigners, which creates the impression
that the foreigner has just been handed a house,' says Zonke Majodina of the HRC. In fact, migrants, who cannot open bank
accounts or buy property, generally have no choice but to rent.
She adds that there
is no doubt that corrupt housing officials take bribes to ensure people are pushed to the top of housing allocation lists
and that the attacks highlight frustrations of residents don't feel they are seeing any results from the seven-year-old, billion-rand
Alexandra Renewal Project.
The tendency to
blame all crime on foreigners is also groundless as there is no hard evidence to suggest that migrants are disproportionately
represented in the criminal class. "Alex has always been crime-ridden -- we cannot blame foreigners as if everyone else who
lives there is an innocent," says Majodina.
And those South
Africans who think this isn't their problem are deluding themselves says Dosso Ndessomin of the Coordinating Body for Refugee
Communities. He says South Africans should be afraid - very afraid - particularly if political forces are manipulating ethnic
differences for their own advantage.
Ndessomin is a
refugee from Côte d'Ivoire and has lived through this before: 'It starts off as xenophobia and when they're finished dealing
with the foreigners, they turn to tribalism. Trust me, that will be much, much worse than anything we are seeing now.'
'South Africa needs
a more pragmatic migration policy that recognises both our dependence on foreign labour and the inability to stop migration
without massive human rights abuses,' says Landau.
and says we need to address gaps in policy as well as do some straight talking about the causes of the problem. 'It's not
an easy issue, but it does need to be addressed at some level. Arresting, detaining and deporting people is just not working,'
'How do we deal
with large numbers of people who may not qualify for formal refugee status but who, on genuine humanitarian grounds, represent
a larger question for government and for our society?'”
violence and anti-foreign sentiments among many black South Africans is also inextricably linked with one of the countries
major and perennial problems which did not end with the end of apartheid as official policy. And that is racism.
Some people, especially leaders, described
the attacks on black African immigrants simply as hooliganism or thuggery., and not xenophobia. But it was far more than that.
This was organised terror, systematic
violence, with a specific agenda, planned by some leaders at the local level and possibly even at the regional and national
levels. And it was well-executed, terrorising the entire African immigrant community in South Africa.
In fact, there was evidence showing
that meetings had been held in a number of communities, by local leaders, to plan and launch the attacks targeting black African
And the outbreaks in Cape Town, two
weeks after the first attacks occurred in the township of Alexandra in Gauteng, confirmed the fears of those who felt that
the violence could spread throughout the country and become a national crisis and even a national catastrophe.
It also clearly demonstrated the urgency
of the situation, and showed that resentment against the black African immigrants had always been there, bubbling under the
surface, just waiting to explode, even in communities where they apparently lived in harmony with their South African neighbours.
According to a report in the Mail&Guardian, Friday, 23 May 2008, on the attacks in Cape Town
which started the previous day, headlined “Migrant Attacks Spread to Cape Town”:
violence has spread to Cape Town, where mobs attacked Somalis and Zimbabweans and looted their homes and shops, police said
Hundreds of African
migrants were evacuated overnight from a squatter camp near Cape Town, the hub of South Africa's prized tourism industry.
Somali-owned shops also were looted in Knysna, a resort town on the south-western coast.
'We don't know
the exact number of shops looted and burnt, but it's a lot,' said Billy Jones, senior superintendent with the Western Cape
provincial police. He added that one Somali died overnight but it was unclear whether the death was linked to the attacks....
At least 42 people
have been killed and more than 25,000 driven from their homes in 12 days of attacks by mobs that accuse African migrants of
taking jobs and fuelling crime. More than 500 people have been arrested....
The attacks have
also sent a chill through the business community.
Officials in the
tourism industry, a cornerstone of the economy, are worried overseas visitors will avoid the country. A number of Western
governments have issued travel warnings for South Africa, and tour companies report rising cancellations.
Nearly one million
South Africans earn their living from tourism, which accounts for 8% of the country's GDP. The country is hoping to draw an
additional half a million tourists for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
South Africa had
attracted millions of African immigrants with the prospect of work in its booming economy and an immigration and asylum policy
that was considered one of the most liberal in the world. That reputation is now in tatters.
Thousands of African
migrants have chosen to return home.
more than 10,000 migrants and their families had left South Africa since the violence broke out, and officials in the Portuguese-speaking
nation expected the number to swell in the coming days.
leader Morgan Tsvangirai said on Thursday that officials in his Movement for Democratic Change would help arrange transportation
for refugees who wanted to go home to Zimbabwe, which is mired in a deep economic crisis....
There are an estimated
three million Zimbabweans in South Africa, making them the biggest immigrant group.”
And in another
report in the same newspaper on the same day on the violence that spread elsewhere in other parts of the country entitled
“'Deliberate Effort' Behind Attacks”:
were looted in Lwandle township near Strand, north of Cape Town, and Knysna....
a Malawian man was shot in Durban overnight and three other foreigners were stabbed in North West.
Police expect more
attacks over the weekend and said they would seek additional assistance from the military if necessary....
that nearly 13,000 migrants and their families had left South Africa since the violence broke out.
There are an estimated
three million migrants fleeing Zimbabwe's economic collapse, making them the biggest group among about five million immigrants
in a country of 50-million people.
United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) on Friday expressed deep concern about the wave of attacks against foreigners.
'The UNHCR remains
deeply concerned about the xenophobic attacks against foreigners in South Africa, including refugees and asylum-seekers who
fled to South Africa seeking protection from persecution in their own countries,' the agency's spokesperson, Jennifer Pagonis,
told journalists in Geneva....
said on Friday it would help its citizens flee violence against foreigners in South Africa....'All Malawians willing to return
home will be evacuated,' Ben Mbewe, foreign affairs principal secretary, said in a statement.”
like Mozambique, Malawi made a concerted effort to evacuate its citizens from South Africa. According to the Mail&Guardian, Friday, 23 May 2008, in one of its main stories, “South Africa's Stature Battered by Migrant
government announced on Friday it had begun helping to evacuate 850 of its citizens.
'More than 850
Malawians have been affected by the current violence. All Malawians willing to return home will be evacuated,' Ben Mbewe,
Foreign Affairs principal secretary said in a statement.
He confirmed that
a Malawian citizen had been shot dead in Durban and said a task force had been set up to coordinate the evacuation. The first
batch of people would be home this weekend.
will do everything possible to ease the plight of affected Malawians,' he said.
Mbewe said hundreds
of Malawians had camped at police stations. About 850 Malawians and 3,000 other immigrants were being sheltered in Johannesburg,
were visiting to check if they were any Malawians hospitalised and to offer help.
Minister Joyce Banda flew to South Africa on Sunday where she was briefed by the country's embassy officials.
Hundreds of Malawians
have flocked to South Africa in recent years seeking employment.
Interior Minister Jose Mandra said on Friday at least 23 Mozambican nationals had been killed.
To cope with the
tide of returning migrants, the government of President Armando Guebuza has reactivated the National Operative Emergency Centre
(CENOE), which deals primarily with disasters.
Minister Oldemiro Baloi said CENOE would deal with the situation in an integrated manner to avoid 'opening wounds that are
hard to heal later.'
The returnees are
being assessed at the border. Some are directed to temporary accommodation centres for food and medical assistance while others
are sent home.
say that more than 10,000 Mozambicans have returned home from South Africa in recent days.
government has laid on buses to fetch its citizens from makeshift camps for the displaced erected in police stations and civic
centres around Johannesburg.”
government said it was expecting an influx of up to 15,000 people or more from South Africa within days. In fact, by Saturday,
24 May 2008, more than 15,300 Mozambicans had returned to their country, according to reports on the same day by Mozambique's
state-owned media. And the government declared a state of emergency on 22 May 2008 to handle the crisis.
of foreign affairs, Oldemiro Baloi, predicted an “exodus,” with thousands - possibly tens of thousands - of Mozambicans
flooding across the border as they fled the violence in South Africa.
At least 50 people
had been killed by Saturday, up from 42 earlier.
It was reported
on Monday, 26 May 2008, that the death toll had reached 56 and more than 30,000 black immigrants had been displaced from their
was also on the same day that Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula said the Xenophobic violence against foreign
nationals has been brought under control. He also said 1,384 suspects had been arrested.
But there was no guarantee that the
violence was really over, a wave of terror in which thousands of homes belonging to black African immigrants had also been
destroyed, and hundreds of shops and other businesses had also been looted and burnt down. As Intelligence Minister Ronnie
Kasrils conceded on 26 May 2008, just because the situation was under control did not mean sporadic attacks could not still
The attacks also occurred in the North
West Province during the same period in May 2008 when they first erupted in Gauteng, forcing black African immigrants to flee
to police stations for security. And when the violence spread to Cape Town on Thursday, 22 May 2008, more attacks were reported
in the North West Province on the same day. According to The Times, Johannesburg,
23 May 2008, “More Xenophobic Attacks in North West”:
were stabbed in the North West province last night as an angry mob looted shops and set vehicles alight, police said today.
Lesego Metsi said more than 100 people were given shelter by the police while at least 15 people were arrested for public
violence in the North West....[He added] that the police were considering calling for reinforcements in the province.
'We are stretching
our resources and as soon as the police arrive at a scene, they get reports of another incident somewhere else. I think we
will consider reinforcements. The police are patrolling the areas to make sure they [foreigners] are safe from these hooligans.
Let’s hope we won’t have more of this.'
In Kokosi township
near Fochville, two Pakistanis were stabbed and their bakkie was set alight. One of the injured men is still in hospital and
the other has been discharged.
In the same township,
four shops belonging to Pakistanis were broken into. Also, a spaza shop owned by a Mozambican man was burnt down.
At Mothutlung village
near Brits, a 200-strong mob looted spaza shops belonging to Mozambicans and the police had to escort two Somalians to safety.
were arrested for public violence,' said Metsi.
More violence occurred
in Ipelegeng township near Schweizer Reneke, where a man was stabbed with a sharp instrument and a South African woman was
pepper sprayed because she worked for a Bangladeshi.
to Pakistanis and Mozambicans were looted at Lethlabile near Brits where South Africans and Zimbabweans also clashed during
In the attacks a few days earlier in
the North West Province, shops and other property belonging to the black African immigrants were looted and burned. They were
left with nothing and were forced to sleep at police stations before boarding buses back home, to their countries of origin.
South Africa has nine provinces. And
the violence erupted in at least six provinces: Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu/Natal, North West, Western Cape, and Eastern
But there was no guarantee that black
African immigrants would be safe in the remaining three provinces of the Northern Cape, the Free State, and Limpopo during
that dark period in the history of post-apartheid South Africa which will always be remembered across the continent and elsewhere
for the vicious attacks and brutal murders of black foreigners in the country, killed by black South Africans.
Any or all the three provinces could
explode anytime. None was immune from xenophobic attacks.
And that is exactly what happened.
Limpopo Province was hit next, within two days during which the violence spread to other provinces. According to the Sowetan, 23 May 2008, in its report headlined “Limpopo Cops Arrest 11 for Race Attack”:
have been arrested in Limpopo province after an attack on foreigners, the first sign of racist violence spreading to the northernmost
Police said Friday
a Mozambican man was stabbed and assaulted in the attack on the homes of immigrants.
'It is alleged
that a group of people approached quarters rented by foreigners and pelted the rooms with stones,' provincial police spokeswoman
Superintendent Ronel Otto said in a statement.
'They broke down
the doors and entered the rooms, demanding money. A 28-year-old man from Mozambique was assaulted and stabbed with a knife
in the shoulder.
Otto said the suspects,
who also set fire to three rooms, had been arrested for attempted murder, armed robbery and malicious damage to property.
This is the first
incident of anti-immigrant violence sweeping the country, to occur in Limpopo, leaving only two of the country’s provinces,
the Eastern and Northern Cape, unaffected.
Otto said 81 foreigners
from Ethiopia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, were being housed in safety at the local police station.
At least 42 have
been killed, more than 500 arrested and 16,000 displaced in the province of Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and the capital
Pretoria, since unrest broke out 12 days ago.”
There were other
incidents of xenophobic attacks in Limpopo Province and in the remaining two provinces, Northern Cape and Orange Free State.
The entire country
had been covered, engulfed in a wave of hate and terror against black African immigrants, many of whom had fled from the same
kind of violence and other forms of strife in their home countries, only to find out that they weren't welcome in South Africa.
It is a shame and
such a tragedy that Africans end up as refugees in Africa, their homeland.
The attacks in KwaZulu/Natal Province
assumed another dimension in the sense that this is a Zulu stronghold and all that it entails in terms of ethnic rivalries
even within the context of South Africa.
But other South Africans who participated
in the xenophobic war and who were members of other ethnic groups were equally motivated and mobilised forces with the Zulu
to attack black African immigrants in KwaZulu/Natal; although the attacks in this province also underscored the political
rivalries between the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) which rules
KwaZulu/Natal. The antagonism has been going on since the early 1990s when apartheid was officially coming to an end.
The attacks in KwaZulu/Natal which
sparked the dispute between the ANC and the IFP concerning the xenophobic attacks had to do with the violence that was unleashed
against some Nigerians and their properties in Durban, the largest city in KwaZulu/Natal Province. According to a news report
in the Independent, Thursday, 22 May 2008, entitled “IFP, ANC Row Over Tavern
ANC government on Wednesday pinned the blame for Tuesday night's xenophobic attack on a group of Nigerians at a pub in Umbilo,
Durban, squarely on the IFP. However, this incensed the IFP which accused the ANC of political point-scoring.
On Wednesday, KZN
Premier S'bu Ndebele and community safety and liaison MEC Bheki Cele made it clear that the tavern attack - in which a large
group of axe- and gun-wielding men had looted the place and attacked only Nigerians - was the only recognised incident of
xenophobia in the province.
They said the attack
was carried out by members of the IFP from the nearby Dalton hostel, who had marched to the tavern after a meeting.
The group also
stoned a nearby building housing hundreds of foreigners and warned them to leave South Africa. On Wednesday many of the building's
inhabitants had packed their belongings and moved out.
'Without any shadow
of doubt this one (attack) was (the responsibility of the) IFP,' said Cele.
However, the IFP's
provincial chairperson, Mntomuhle Khawula, said that Cele's comments were 'immature and irresponsible.'
'Mr Cele... should
be more cautious about his utterances lest he adds fuel to a fire,' said Khawula.
The issue of xenophobia
has dominated headlines over the past two weeks after gangs went on the rampage in townships in Gauteng, killing, looting
and destroying the property of foreigners.
Khawula said the
Dalton hostel was a multiparty residence. It was therefore irresponsible to insinuate specific party political affiliation
without any knowledge of the identity of the attackers .
Ndebele said the
provincial government would not brush off the attack as a single incident.
'That's why we
are here and we are going to be here in full force. As MEC Cele is saying, we are not going to play because any fool can start
this thing (xenophobic attacks), but to stop it is so difficult.'
Cele said the province
had experienced terrible violence in the past and knew what it was like when people's homes were burnt down.
'... people of
KZN will no longer accept that thing (violence) because they know they will suffer. The experience of peace is what we will
use,' he said.
Cele said there
were no flashpoints in the province at this point but police were on standby and they would not hesitate to call in the defence
force if the situation warranted that step.
Ndebele went into
the tavern to examine the damage wrought in the attack. A broken television stood on a dustbin and a glass wall at the entrance
'We are scared.
They must tell us to go so we can sell our properties and business and leave peacefully. They must not catch us unaware,'
Christopher Iheukwumere, the tavern owner, said on Wednesday.
Ndebele urged him
not to do so, promising to "stamp out" the problem.
He and Cele were
adamant that the xenophobia experienced in Gauteng had not taken root in this province.
cabinet said: 'The security forces reported that in KZN there have not been such attacks as experienced in Gauteng province.'”
There was also another factor that
came into play during the violent xenophobic campaign that was waged against the black African immigrants in different parts
of South Africa in May 2008. That was the Zuma factor.
It had an ethnic dimension, Zulu, but
it was also national in scope because of the appeal Jacob Zuma, president of the ruling African National Congress, had among
many poor South Africans who saw him as their saviour if he were to become president of South Africa in 2009, as he was widely
expected to be.
Despite his professions to the contrary,
Jacob Zuma has reportedly made it very clear to his supporters, even if in an indirect way, that he does not want foreigners
in South Africa who compete for jobs with South Africans, especially the poor. And he has not been known to take a firm stand
against xenophobic attacks on black African immigrants in the past anymore than President Mbeki and other national leaders
Zuma's favourite song during the liberation
struggle against apartheid, Umshini Wami ('Give Me my Machine Gun'), has become the
“national anthem” for those who are engaged in this xenophobic campaign against the immigrants from other parts
All that has fuelled anti-foreign sentiments
among many South Africans of all classes including the middle-class transcending ethnic and racial lines. Many of them see
this as a national cause worthy of “patriotic” support to keep South Africa for South Africans.
The attackers also have a precedent
to cite. They have not been punished in the past for attacking black African immigrants, besides getting a slap on the wrist.
So why should they worry now?
As the country was preparing for the
presidential election to be held in 2009, there was no question that the Zuma factor would remain a prime determinant in the
xenophobic campaign which has always been inextricably linked with national politics in the South African context. And it
will continue to be exploited by unscrupulous politicians in pursuit of their goals. As Mandy Rossouw stated in his report
in the Mail&Guardian, Johannesburg, 24 May 2008, entitled “The Zuma Factor”:
Zuma’s signature tune, Umshini Wam’, has become the soundtrack
for the xenophobic upsurge in Gauteng.
This despite Zuma’s
insistence that he does not condone moves to force Zimbabweans and other non-nationals out of the townships and South Africa.
Some victims also
see a Zuma factor in the violence: one listener told 702 Eyewitness news this week that Zuma was to blame for the current
spate of xenophobic attacks. 'When he was campaigning to become president of the ANC, he said he would get rid of all the
foreigners,' the caller said.
unrest-hit Kya Sands in Johannesburg a Zulu-speaking member of a group planning attacks on foreigners told the Mail
& Guardian: 'Tell Jacob Zuma to tell Mugabe to come and get his people.'
his only public appearance since the attacks began Zuma told a crowd in Pretoria last week: 'Umshini wam’ belongs to the ANC. Who are these people abusing this song while they are doing wrong things?
They are abusing the names of ANC leaders in the process.'
Zuma was in London
this week attending the graduation ceremony of his daughter, Msholozi, and will later visit the Elysées Palace in Paris to
meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
observers said Umshini Wam’ is a song of revolt and the xenophobic attackers
believe they are in revolt against President Thabo Mbeki’s administration. There is a perception that Zuma is more sympathetic
to the plight of ordinary South Africans and understands the threat foreigners allegedly pose to their livelihoods.
advocacy officer with the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa, said xenophobic attacks “in Zuma’s
name” increased after he was elected ANC president at the party’s Polokwane conference. “Ordinary people
in the street have been saying that when he comes into power all foreigners will be chased out of the country. The man in
the street sees Zuma as one of them, while they see the current president [Mbeki] as distant,” Shange-Buthane said.
Some wanted Zuma
to address them to allay fears about the influx of non-South Africans. 'In Mamelodi they said ‘bring him’, people
believe in him. They believe he will support their cause.'
said when foreigners were attacked in Delmas, Mpumalanga, last October, the swift response of the police and other agencies
created the impression that attacks were a surefire way of attracting government attention.
There is also a
perception that, because no one was brought to book for the attacks, it is safe to carry them out. 'No one is sent to jail.
If they are, they are out of jail and back in the community the next day -- no one will hold them accountable.'
dynamic also appears to have infected the South African Police Service. When the Central Methodist Church was raided by police
earlier this year, they allegedly asked refugees to produce asylum-seeker permits.
When they did,
they were told the documents were 'Mbeki papers' and therefore not acceptable, said Loren Landau, director of the forced migration
programme at Wits University.
argues that the language leaders use to describe the attacks fails to convey condemnation. 'Zuma should speak more and convey
a message about this constantly, not just once in a while. He should speak to people in Zulu to get the message across.'
ANC national executive committee member
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela stepped into the leadership vacuum this week. In tearful television interviews she apologised to
foreigners and warned commuters to avoid their normal routes because the ANC had intelligence that the attacks would spread
to the trains.
A resident of Madala hostel in Alexandra
this week said that ordinary people felt a powerful sense of newfound confidence since Zuma’s rise to power, particularly
Zulu-speakers. Said security guard Bhekizitha Ntshangase: 'There is nothing we can say these days because everybody says ‘siyaphapha’
[we’re so confident] because we know that Zuma is going to become the president.'”
The toxic politics
of ethnicity were a factor in the attacks, as many Zulus saw themselves as the new “masters” of South Africa with
the rise of a Jacob Zuma to power, virtually guaranteeing that he would be the next president of South Africa and the most
powerful Zulu leader since the end of apartheid.
The Zulu were also
responsible for some of the most vicious attacks against black African immigrants during the dark days of May 2008.
There's no question
that the xenophobic violence was the worst in the history of South Africa in the post-apartheid era.
And it all took place in a matter of
days, only a few days, in May 2008. And it achieved its purpose even if on a limited scale. As one of South Africa's leading
newspapers, The Times, Johannesburg, stated in one of its main stories on 22 May 2008,
“Foreigners Scramble to Leave South Africa.”
has seen an exodus of foreigners fleeing the rampant xenophobic violence in its townships and informal settlements.
The number of buses
transporting foreigners had more than doubled in some areas of the CBD (Central Business District) by yesterday afternoon....One
driver, who had just returned from Mutare in Zimbabwe, said: 'We have been quite busy and it is frustrating when you get to
the border because there are a lot of buses that need to be processed'....
Officials at the
Johannesburg bus terminus had tightened security at the gates, fearing attacks on foreigners who sleep there overnight while
waiting to catch the early-morning bus....
Some hawkers from
neighbouring countries, who regularly come to South Africa to do their shopping, said that they were now too afraid to leave
the depot. 'It’s risky, but we have to take a chance,' said Yvonne Kadungure, a hawker from Bulawayo.”
Within days, tens of thousands of foreigners
made plans to leave South Africa. More than 9,000 from Mozambique alone were headed towards the border, a wave of human misery
the authorities at the Mozambican border were hard-pressed to cope with, but which they had to handle since it was their fellow
countrymen and women coming back home, kicked out of a country for which they sacrificed so much to help liberate.
By Friday, 23 May 2008, more than 13,000
Mozambicans had left South Africa and returned to their home country.
And there was no guarantee that the
xenophobic attacks would stop. Many black South Africans insisted that immigrants from other African countries must leave
South Africa. As one of South African newspapers, the Independent, 22 May 2008, stated
in its report, “Is Gauteng Really Quiet?:
indicate that renewed violence had broken out in the Ramaphosa informal settlement, outside Reiger Park on Gauteng's East
Rand on Thursday....
attacks broke out in the Alexandra township last Sunday and have since spread across the province and now into Mpumalanga,
the North West and KwaZulu-Natal.
While the situation
in Alexandra was calm, it was evident that the flame which had been ignited in the township had not yet been extinguished.
Khwerana said: 'People are tired, this is not going to stop now.'
She said government
and dignitaries who visited the township in the wake of the violence and condemned the violence were making the situation
'They are living
the good life... they don't know how we live. Its like the government is against its own people and this is making us more
angry,' she said.
Khwerana said while
the violent nature of the attacks were wrong, residents were very angry.
'How can everyone
provide food at the police station for them and here there are our own people hungry. They don't provide for their own.'
agreed that the violence was wrong, but she too wanted foreigners to return to their homes.
'This fight will
never be over until they go home,' she said.
Mapetho said foreigners
were viewed as criminals by the local community and this was the main reason they had to leave. They also took jobs which
could potentially be filled by South Africans.”
The exodus of black
African immigrants from South Africa was one of the saddest chapters in the history of the country and indeed of the entire
continent in the post-colonial era.
It was also a blow
to Pan-African solidarity.
were the first to leave in massive numbers with the help of their government. According to a report from Mozambique's capital
Maputo published in the Independent,
Wednesday, 21 May 2008, entitled “Thousands of Mozambicans Return Home”:
Mozambique nationals have crossed the border from South Africa, fleeing the xenophobic violence that left at least 24 migrants
dead, eight of them from Mozambique, officials said Wednesday.
'We are having
hectic moments with the return of these people. On Monday we registered 2,911 returnees, on Tuesday 2,725 and today 3,275,'
said Leonardo Boby, Deputy National Director of Migration.
Boby said many
of the new arrivals had lost most of their possessions, following attacks by South African youths claiming the migrants were
committing crimes and depriving them of jobs.
According to the
Foreign Affairs Ministry, the repatriation of the Mozambique citizens was sponsored by the government, which also brought
back the bodies of four of those who died for burial.”
have done the same thing, board buses in massive numbers like Mozambicans did, but they did not get any help from their government
because of the political situation in their country which had forced them to leave and seek shelter, and jobs, in neighbouring
But they still
left in very large numbers. By 22 May 2008, Zimbabwean groups and their supporters, including the Movement for Democratic
Change (MDC), the main opposition party in Zimbabwe led by Morgan Tsvangirai, had mobilised hundreds of buses to take Zimbabweans
of the organisers, Chester Gumbo, an MDC leader, was quoted by the Independent,
22 May 2008, in a story healined, “Refugee Crisis Grows,” telling Zimbabweans at a refugee camp in Johannesburg:
“We are here
to tell you that the president (Morgan Tsvangirai) will be coming to meet you and we have organised 1,000 buses to take you
back home. It is time for change in Zimbabwe. People are not happy here, so we are making a plan for them to go back home
if they want to.”
The victims described the terror they
went through. It was hell. And many of them vowed never to return to South Africa.
According to a report by Daniel Howden
and Ian Evans in Cape Town – where more than 10,000 African immigrants had been displaced by the violence – which
was published in a British news paper, The Independent, Saturday, 24 May 2008, and
headlined “Migrants Flee South Africa as Wave of Violence Spreads to Cape Town”:
of xenophobic violence that has convulsed South Africa reached Cape Town yesterday with mobs looting shops and immigrants
forced to flee a squatter camp which came under attack on the outskirts of the city.
At the same time
neighbouring Mozambique declared a state of emergency to help its citizens fleeing the attacks, warning the "exodus will worsen"
as thousands are still housed in makeshift camps awaiting transport back home....
The crisis has
confronted many of South Africa's estimated five million immigrants with some appalling dilemmas....
Voices of the
'When I go out I have to be very cautious,
not stay anywhere a long time. I pay attention to what is happening around me.
I don't talk to anyone and not look
at them in case they know I am Zimbabwean and want to attack me.
We have talked about leaving because of the killings. It is very worrying but for the moment we
are staying. You have to understand what is happening back home. Things are bad there. We have no option but to stay.
I resigned from
my job in Zimbabwe to come here to start a new life. We have parents back home to take care of. If I went back, I could not
get a job with the government for two years and I would be unemployed and destitute.
I don't want to
be unemployed – but if the worst comes to the worst here, our lives are more important and we would go. We won't be
killed in Zimbabwe.'
'I was awoken by the sound of screaming on Monday. A shack belonging to a Mozambican immigrant had
been set alight. He tried to escape the fire. But the residents were armed with all sorts of weapons and AK-47 rifles. They
shouted, 'Umbambe engabaleki', which means 'Don't let him run away' in Zulu.
The mob caught
up with him, doused him with petrol and threw him back into the burning shack. I have never seen such barbarism. I cannot
stand this kind of life.
Some other Zimbabweans and I ran to take shelter in a shack owned by a South African woman.
Other residents, who had seen us taking refuge followed, shouting, 'Where are the foreigners?' They were armed with sticks
and knives. The owner told the attackers we were South Africans. What saved us was that we could speak Zulu.'
Nyiko Ngobeni of Chikwalakwala, Mozambique, told
the CAJ news agency how he witnessed the killing of three of his best friends:
'I am experiencing nightmares every
day now. Each time I close my eyes, I see my three friends being butchered in cold blood. The four of us were asleep when
some thugs started attacking us. I survived through faking death. I smeared my friend's blood on my chest, mouth and nose,
to fool them. They only left after being convinced we were all dead. I'm not going to risk my life again. South Africa was
good for us, but I will never set my foot in Johannesburg again. I now hate South Africans.”
The xenophobic attacks in different part of the country were tragic enough and tarnished South
Africa's image as a nation whose unity was forged on the anvil of diversity; hence its claim as “the rainbow nation.”
But just as tragic, and in spite of all the official condemnation of the attacks, was the government's
response. The government was slow to respond. It did not want to respond. And it waited until it was too late to save lives.
Had it responded right away, the lives that were lost could have been saved; at least most of them.
In fact the government itself, after 10 days of violence, admitted that it was aware of a potential
disaster resulting from anti-immigrant sentiments and that such hostility would explode into violence.
Still, it did nothing, in advance, to avert this catastrophe and conceded
its failure to do only after it came under severe criticism from many quarters after the violence erupted, wreaking havoc
in black African immigrant communities. The immigrants were helpless, hunted like wild animals, feeing for their lives to
nowhere. As the Mail&Guardian, Saturday, 24 May 2008, reported, “Hunted
by Gangs, Migrants Flee Flames”:
“George Mhanda came to Johannesburg
to feed his family, struggling to eat under Robert Mugabe's derelict rule. The Zimbabwean mechanic found a job in a local
garage and a room in a small house in Tembisa township, and sent cash home every month.
This week he fled the house ahead of a baying mob hunting down African immigrants, and made for
the sanctuary of the Central Methodist Church in the heart of Johannesburg. He thinks his job is gone but now his priority
is just to survive. At night he arms himself with a small pile of bricks for defence against the hostile mobs roaming outside,
and settles down to sleep among hundreds of other unwelcome Africans on a flight of stairs in the church.
Mhanda cannot quite believe it has come to this. He had heard of such things in Rwanda and Kenya,
of the killers going door to door in search of those who are different. But he never imagined it in Johannesburg, one of the
most diverse and cosmopolitan cities on the continent and a beacon for immigrants.
'There's crime here, we all know that. But people come from all over to Johannesburg. It's that
kind of city, not just a South African city but an African city. I can't understand it," he said. "Now maybe I will have to
go back to Zimbabwe. I will wait a few days and see what happens but perhaps it is worse to be here than there.'
South Africa's bloodletting is a long way from the ethnic killings of Rwanda and Kenya. But at
least 43 people have been murdered and tens of thousands forced from their homes as mobs hunted down African immigrants in
a dozen Johannesburg suburbs and satellite townships. With it has come looting and rape.
Thousands of immigrants are fleeing home. About 15,000 Mozambicans crossed the border back to their
country on Thursday alone. Others packed Johannesburg's bus and train stations looking for a way out. Many thousands are crammed
into police compounds and community halls.
More than 2,000 immigrants, mostly Zimbabweans, are sheltering at the Central Methodist Church.
They fill every space, sleeping on the pews, in the corridors, on the stairs. About a third are women and children. Makeshift
defensive weapons are everywhere -- bricks, wood from broken chairs, metal bars.
There were skirmishes around the church as mobs attacked the refugees in recent days, and plenty
of threats and insults from passersby, before the police parked a couple of cars outside. In one of the attacks a deaf-mute
man who did not hear the warnings of an attack was beaten around the head, leaving a gash down to his skull.
Now the violence is spreading across the country to Cape Town, Durban and the Free State (Province).
Some of the scenes in the townships and squatter camps were disturbingly reminiscent of hatred
The mob that drove Mhanda from his home consisted of hundreds of young men armed with machetes,
spears, knobkerries and metal pipes fashioned to look like guns. They danced their way through Tembisa in scenes evocative
of the bloody township wars when rival black political groups competed for power with the twilight of apartheid in the early
'There was hatred in their eyes,' said Mhanda. 'They were shouting things in Zulu. I didn't understand
but I knew what they wanted to do, to kill the foreigners. It was very frightening. The people in the street told me to run.
They said that if those boys caught me I would be dead for sure.'
Two foreigners were murdered the night that Mhanda fled and scores of shacks burned
or looted. In other places the victims have been burned alive, or chopped into pieces.
The attacks mostly come at night. Sometimes the mobs know where the foreign families live but if
they are in doubt they haul them out of their beds and ask a simple question in Zulu, the lingua franca of the townships.
Lack of comprehension is dangerous.
The scenes in Tembisa have resulted in something else not seen since the end of apartheid -- South
African soldiers patrolling the townships.
A Somali was killed on Friday when a mob in Du Noon in Cape Town attacked shacks and looted shops,
and pelted foreigners with rocks and bottles. The police took about 500 immigrants to the protection of a police station.
Du Noon residents said they wanted all the foreigners out.
'We want them to leave by Sunday,' Nonkululeko Sarlana told the South African Press Association.
Moses Ndabihawenimana and his two brothers fled Burundi two years ago after their parents were
murdered there. Now he fears a similar fate in South Africa. 'This is war. They are going to kill us,' he said.
The church's bishop, Paul Verryn, said ordinary South Africans had grown hostile to African immigrants
as Zimbabweans flooded into the country. By some estimates there are three million Zimbabweans in South Africa and about two
million other African immigrants.
'The numbers here created anxiety,' he said. 'You can't get away from the fact that some of them
are very educated with a substantial work ethic -- the Zimbabweans in particular. This is true of refugees the world over.
They will do whatever work they need to survive. If they are doctors and they have to sell newspapers they will do it. And
you watch them advance faster and they're sitting ducks.'
'Ask my boss why he employs me,' said Mhanda. 'He is a white boss. He will tell you South Africans
are lazy. They get up and start drinking beer. They don't like to work. They don't do the job properly. They don't come to
work and still expect to be paid. He says he has had to deal with that all his life.'
That is not the view in Alexandra, a township of about 500,000 people living in difficult conditions
in the heart of Johannesburg where the violence began two weeks ago. It, like Soweto, has been one of the beneficiaries of
large government spending to bring decent housing and schools to the townships.
But what the uplift has not brought is jobs. Earning a living remained difficult, and was not made
easier as Zimbabweans fleeing their country's economic crisis packed in to the township.
Many were well educated and found work that Alexandrans could not. The bitterness grew until it
exploded. Now about 1,000 immigrants are packed in to the compound of the township's police station for protection.
Veronica Khoza, a street trader, has little sympathy. 'They give the jobs to Zimbabweans because
they will work for cheap wages. We are South Africans. We know our rights and we demand to be paid properly,' she said.
There is also contempt for their failure to take on Robert Mugabe.
'They have run away,' said Khoza 'All they do is complain about how horrible Mugabe is to them.
Why don't they stay in their country and fight? We fought apartheid. Many people were killed. Many people went to prison,
even children. The white soldiers were here, in Alexandra, and they shot people. We didn't just run away.'
Perhaps not, but large numbers of South Africans did leave the country to join the liberation struggle
and ended up living in Zimbabwe, Angola, Tanzania and Mozambique. It is a source of bitterness among immigrants from those
countries that the hospitality they offered is not reciprocated.
More than 5,000 immigrants have stayed at Verryn's church since it opened its doors to them four
years ago. Some have slept there for just a couple of nights. Others have remained for years. About one-third are women and
children who sleep in a separate part of the building although a number of women have become pregnant and given birth while
living in the church.
This, and allegations of criminal activity, has led to hostile coverage
in the South African press that Verryn says has contributed to antagonism toward immigrants. He is exercised by an article
in the Star newspaper two years ago under the headline:
'Place of worship now a den of iniquity.'
It carried the story of a Zimbabwean immigrant, Andrew Khumalo, who was stabbed to death in the
church in a row over clothes. It quoted members of the congregation as complaining that people had sex in the church, and
there was drunkenness and brawling.
'There are problems but look at the other people who have settled here who are a credit to
the country. Some are working in their professions. There are builders, mechanics, accountants, teachers," said Verryn. "There's
a sense of solidarity, of family, in this building. People really help each other.'
The police raided the church in February, arresting hundreds of undocumented immigrants. Verryn
said the police behaved like criminals.
'They were assaulting people. They were stealing. Their whole demeanour was aggressive,' he said.
All those detained were later freed.
Many South Africans are ashamed of the violence. Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of Cape Town
and anti-apartheid leader, appealed for an end to the attacks. We human beings, ever since the Garden of Eden, are looking
for scapegoats,' he wrote.
The bishop receives a call about a church in the wealthy white Johannesburg suburb which is less
than enthusiastic about taking refugees.
He quotes Matthew's gospel at the caller - 'I was a stranger and you welcomed me in' and, after
hanging up, smiles and says he might send a few homeless immigrants up to the hesitant church.”
The xenophobic violence received little attention at the national level. The government was virtually
quiet, a deafening silence on such a critical matter which sent the wrong signals to the marauding gangs who were busy attacking
They used everything and anything they could lay their hands on: bricks, clubs, stones, knives,
machetes, pangas, guns, fire. They maimed, raped, and killed. And they burnt people live. Yet the government did not respond
to the carnage and orgy of violence that was there for everybody to see in clear view on national television.
President Thabo Mbeki himself did not even address the matter when the violence first erupted,
and it was not until several days later that he decided to take some action by authorising military intervention to help quell
the violence; something he should have done sooner or right away when it became clear – right from the beginning –
that the crisis could escalate into a national crisis if it was not dealt with, effectively, and if there was no clear demonstration
of military force against the attackers.
It took the president two weeks before he spoke about the violence, and not in very strong language
even then! He also didn't say much. And it was only a short statement that was read on the radio and television when he addressed
Although he went on television and spoke on the radio at the same time addressing
the problem, only briefly, he still did not go to see the victims of the violence or the areas which had been torn by the violence.
Presidential spokesman Mukoni Ratshitanga said the president did not visit the victims of the violence or the places where the xenophobic
attacks has taken place because he was “busy.”
Many people saw his failure or unwillingness to visit the affected areas and the victims of the
violence as lack of compassion for the people in plight.
Some ANC leaders visited the troubled spots but the president did not join them.
So all he could do was give a short speech on radio and television on the subject.
And it happened to be on African Liberation Day - also known as Africa Day - which was observed
across the continent on Sunday, 25 May 2008, in commemoration of the struggle for African independence.
May 25th was chosen by African countries as the African Liberation
Day because that was the day when the leaders of 32 independent African countries who met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 23
May – 25 May 1963 signed the charter that officially established the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). The OAU was
replaced by the African Union (AU) in 2002.
The xenophobic violence which tore through South Africa made a mockery of all that. It also raised
serious questions about President Mbeki's commitment to take stern measures against those who attack foreigners.
The violence erupted in Alexandra on 11 May 2008. Why did he wait until African Liberation Day
to address the matter?
And after addressing the nation on Africa Day on Sunday, on 25 May, he flew to Japan the next day,
thus sending very bad signals to the victims and the entire nation and even to the attackers who waged this vicious xenophobic
It seemed he didn't care, even if he did. Going to Japan to attend the Tokyo International Conference
on African Development (TICAD) seemed to be more important to him than addressing a national crisis at home.
Ironically, the theme of the conference was “"Towards
a Vibrant Africa: A Continent of Hope and Opportunity.” Reflecting on what had happened in South Africa, the contradiction
was obvious even though it was not intended as a rebuke to President Mbeki.
Even the national executive committee
of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), whose members met to address the crisis, criticised the cabinet for not treating
the violence as a national emergency.
President Mbeki waited an awful long time before he addressed the subject
and was strongly criticised by many people for his failure to respond to the crisis when it was going on during the first
few days. As Florence Panoussian stated in her report in the Mail&Guardian on Africa Day, 25 May 2008, entitled “Absent Mbeki Criticised Over Violence”:
“South African President Thabo
Mbeki, already under fire for perceived policy failings that caused an anti-immigrant backlash in his country, now faces questions
about his handling of the crisis
The head of state is yet to visit the worst affected areas of Johannesburg after two weeks of violence
against foreigners that has left more than 50 dead and more than 25,000 displaced.
His pronouncements have been limited to a statement given to newspapers more than a week after
trouble began, a promise to create an investigating committee, and a brief comment carried by state radio South African Broadcasting
Corporation on Saturday in which he talked of "the humiliating disgrace" of the episode.
Despite spreading violence, which began in Johannesburg two weeks ago but has now hit seven of
the country's nine provinces, he has not made a public address on the radio or television to appeal for calm.
'A strong appeal to the South African people from the president would be very welcome indeed,'
says Olmo Von Meijenfeldt, an analyst from the Institute for Democracy in South Africa.
The latest incident underlines his distant style of leadership, he adds.
"He is not a man ... to put himself at the forefront," Von Meijenfeld says.
'Due to his style of leadership and his personality, he is someone who is a bit far away from the
day-to-day life of these communities.'
By contrast, his rival in the African National Congress, Jacob Zuma, who defeated him to become
head of the party in December, has been more vocal and is to visit victims on Sunday.
The issue of the violence is not just a personal embarrassment to Mbeki, who has long championed
the pan-African cause. Unheeded warnings of a looming problem are coming back to haunt the government as a whole.
Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils has admitted that the government knew tensions were growing.
'Of course we were aware there was something brewing. It is one thing to know there is a social
problem and another thing to know when that outburst will occur,' he said.
Outbreaks of anti-immigrant attacks have been reported since the late 1990s and the South African
Human Rights Commission had warned in 2007: 'Xenophobia is definitely increasing.'
Again, in March of this year, the commission issued a statement reiterating 'its concern about
the scourge of xenophobic violent attacks and brutal murders of foreign nationals.'
It urged the government to pass a hate crimes law.
It is a poor reflection on Mbeki that both Von Meijenfeldt and Moetlesi Mbeki, of the South African
Institute of International Affairs, believe a public appeal by the president would have limited impact.
Moetlesi Mbeki is the president's own brother, but an outspoken critic nonetheless.
'The current government has lost its credibility,' he said.
'Even a strong statement by somebody who has such weak authority will not convince the people.'
The underlying reason for the brutal outbreak of violence, which has seen gangs of armed youths
purging poor slum areas of their foreign inhabitants, is a failed immigration and foreign policy, he says.
'This crisis is the result of the failure of their foreign policy against Zimbabwe and they don't
want to admit that,' says Moetlesi Mbeki.
He believes Mbeki's failure to tackle Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who has presided over
the collapse of his country's economy, is of paramount importance in the current context.
Between one and three million Zimbabweans are estimated to have fled their homeland to find work
in South Africa and they now stand accused by locals of stealing jobs and committing crime.
'The solution has always been to take a strong position against Mugabe,' says Moetlesi.
The South African president was widely derided for saying there was "no crisis" in Zimbabwe on
a visit to capital Harare last month.
In 2007, he said that immigration from the country was 'something that we have to live with.'
The result has been an influx of people and a loss of confidence in South Africa's ability to police
its borders and control migration.
South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille wrote on Friday that the ANC should
stop casting around for excuses. A "third force," right-wingers and criminals have been accused of stirring up trouble.
'It [the ANC] cannot face the fact that the state's failure to stem the tide of illegal immigration
and the almost total incapacity to process the wave of refugee applications was the short-term catalyst for the violence,'
'The ANC elite will never face the fact that poverty stricken South Africans bear the brunt for
government's policy failures,' she wrote in her weekly online letter.”
And there were ominous signs that the trouble was far from over. It is highly probable that attacks
on foreigners will continue indefinitely. This was clearly demonstrated when the president of the ANC ruling party, Jacob
Zuma, addressed a crowd of thousands two weeks after the violence started.
Thousands of them cheered when some people told Zuma at the rally that he
should work with the leaders of Zimbabwe and Mozambique – and other countries to send the immigrants back to their home
countries. According to the Mail&Guardian, 25 May 2008, in its report, “Mbeki,
Zuma Condemn Attacks”:
“All people in South Africa should
be tolerant of one another, African National Congress president Jacob Zuma said in Bakerton on the East Rand on Sunday....
He came to address thousands of people
in Bakerton (in Gauteng Province) about concerns regarding service delivery and the recent attacks in the area.
Zuma, accompanied by provincial ANC
chairperson Paul Mashatile and the Ekurhuleni mayor Duma Nkosi, was welcomed by more than 8,000 people....
People in the province's townships,
especially on the East Rand, attacked foreigners, vandalised and looted their properties since May 12. They claimed that foreigners,
among others, provided cheap labour and contributed to the levels of crime.
Thousands of foreigners were left destitute
and have sought refuge at police stations, churches and local halls.
The large crowd applauded when some
members of the community said that foreigners were not welcome in Bakerton and that they must leave the area....
Four men who spoke from the floor identified
the preference given to foreigners in the nearby mines, foreigners' arrogance and boastfulness and housing....
The crowd applauded their community
representatives when they told Zuma to take all foreigners with him and organise with the Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe
and the Mozambique's president Armando Guebuza that they be sent back to their countries.”
According to another report, in the
Sowetan, 26 May 2008, “ANC president Jacob Zuma appealed for calm and restraint
as some community members called for the deportation of all foreigners during a meeting in Springs yesterday....'We want them
gone,' insisted one person in the audience. 'They must all be repatriated to their countries. We have a problem here.'”
at the meeting even said the national leaders themselves - of the ruling African National Congress – should leave South
Africa and follow the foreigners to their countries. According to the Sowetan,
26 May 2008:
foreigners had played major roles in the attainment of freedom in South Africa. ANC members were treated with compassion when
they were in exile in Mogadishu, Somalia, he said. He criticised locals for the manner in which they treated Somalis in the
Some members of
the audience disagreed with Zuma, with some shouting that the ANC leadership should follow the foreigners to their countries.
During his verbal
assault on the ANC, one unrepentant speaker also challenged Zuma to join those who were packing for Mozambique.
warned that Zuma would be kicked out of office if he became a stumbling block to the aspirations of the community....
After the meeting
some people called for attacks on foreigners be intensified....'Tonight we’ll carry on with the purging of foreigners
in our midst,' a woman said to her friend.”
They were expressing
a collective sentiment shared by many black South Africans in the audience at that meeting and elsewhere in many other parts
of the country.
Such sentiments don't bode well for
the future. And it is highly likely that another major wave of xenophobic terror will sweep across the nation, driving countless
foreigners out of South Africa, including those who have been accorded legal status – permanent residence and even citizenship.
The campaign may also be prosecuted
as a “sophisticated” form of low-intensity warfare, making life very difficult and uncomfortable for foreigners
including legal residents to force or encourage them to leave “voluntarily” and even give up their South African
citizenship, for those who have that.
The strong sentiments against black
African immigrants expressed at a public meeting with Zuma in Bakerton on 25 May 2008 may be an indication of things to come.
The war against foreigners is not over. The sentiments were also shared by other black South Africans in other parts of the
And that was two weeks after the violence had claimed at least 50 lives.
the black South Africans who continued to express those sentiments were some Pretorians, in a settlement near the nation's
capital, Pretoria. As reported by Xolani Mbanjwa in the Independent, one of
the South African newspapers, on 26 May 2008 in a report entitled “'Things Are Better Without Foreigners'”:
of Itireleng informal settlement, north of Pretoria, believe they are better off now that the foreigners are gone.
In February, Itireleng
exploded with xenophobic violence - a sign of things to come.
Hundreds of Somalis,
Mozambicans and Zimbabweans were attacked and chased out of the township.
And since then,
according to local residents, crime levels have decreased.
When the Pretoria
News team visited the informal settlement recently, locals said they could finally sleep with their doors open again.
a "third force" is behind the recent surge in xenophobic attacks in other informal settlements, but Itireleng residents said
they were responsible for their own actions.
They wanted foreigners
out. But they admitted there were criminal elements who took advantage of the situation.
who is unemployed, said they had grown tired of living with foreigners in filthy conditions. They called a community meeting
in February to address various problems, including crime.
'At that meeting
we told foreigners they're not welcome in Itireleng anymore. The community took a decision and you can't say that all residents
of Itireleng are criminals who incited violence because they reached a decision together.'
After the meeting,
some foreigners left. Others refused, because they had nowhere to go.
Michael Meso said: 'It was then that we forcefully drove them out.'
were severely beaten. Homes and shops belonging to foreigners were looted and torched.
About 11 locals
were arrested for public violence, but released on warning a week later. They were cheered by the crowd at the Atteridgeville
It is estimated
that more than 700 foreigners lived in Itireleng. Not one is left.
The residents have
many grievances related to the foreigners.
residents of the neighbouring suburbs of Laudium and Erasmia of employing foreigners.
They also accused
foreigners of accepting low pay and thereby "undermining" the government's efforts to implement minimum wages. Some apparently
get paid R20 a day as domestic workers.
One woman said:
'South Africans are used to the minimum wages now of at least R1 200 a month for domestic workers and when foreigners accept
low pay, they get the jobs and we are left with nothing.
'Those who hire
them are also to blame because they know there are minimum wages that have been set and should be followed.'
the head of the community policing sector forum, said: 'We ran them (foreigners) out in two days. We told them we don't want
them back. We never want to see them here.
'We blame the government
for allowing so many illegal immigrants to cross into this country. The government should now have refugee camps for these
people because we don't want them here anymore. Crime has never been so low in Itireleng. Cellphone and cable theft, house
robberies and break-ins, rapes, gunshots at night and especially at the weekends are no more.'
Morapedi has a
logbook where crimes are recorded. In the past week, the only problem was a shebeen brawl.
Zimbabweans, first settled in Itireleng in 2000.
'We allowed them to stay with us because of what was happening in Zimbabwe. But in 2004 there were so many foreigners we thought
they were outnumbering us.'
another reason that foreigners had to leave was that the government ignored their pleas for services.
'Every time we
meet council officials they tell us there is no budget for roads, clinics, schools and all sorts of things because there are
so many people who live in bad conditions in Itireleng. The government doesn't know that as many as 10 foreigners would share
one shack,' said Meso.
accused police for not doing enough to protect them.
Captain Thomas Mufamadi said: 'All I can say is that we have dealt with the xenophobic issue in Itireleng. If people have
any complaints, they should approach the police station.'
accused "corrupt" Home Affairs officials of "selling" documents.
accused of falsifying South African identity documents by replacing pictures in stolen ID books with their own.
the government should have established refugee camps for all foreigners instead of allowing them to live with locals in informal
"Many illegal and legal immigrants stay in informal settlements.
'But we are poor
and unemployed and trying to survive with what we have, through grants and informal jobs. Foreigners are competing with us
for the same things.
is bad and we never had loss of life in Itireleng, but it seems to us who live in these conditions that foreigners are more
important to the government than its own people.
"That's why you
see these attacks happening in informal settlements.'
The Itireleng locals
have now warned that they are considering chasing foreigners from Laudium and Erasmia, where they have sought refuge.
They said women
who worked as domestic workers in Laudium, Erasmia and surrounding areas had been mugged on their way to and from work.
'We will also drive
them out of Laudium and Erasmia because since they've been there crime has shot up in that area.
'We have found
foreigners who enter here illegally at night and we call the police to come and take them away,' said Morapedi.
Residents are so
determined to keep foreigners out of the area that they have established an office where foreigners, who were driven out of
the area, have to report to before visiting their relatives, mostly South African wives and children, who were allowed to
remain in their shacks.
A South African
woman married to a Mozambican said life was difficult without her husband.
to get him home and it is not safe for him to be at home. But since so many people have been killed, I am grateful that nothing
happened to him during the violence,' she said.
Another said: 'We
sleep peacefully now. In the past we would have sleepless nights with gunshots in the middle of the night and especially at
the weekends. Now the situation is normal.'”
Even when Safety and Security Minister
Charles Nqakula announced on 26 May 2008 that the violence had been brought under control, uprooted immigrants were still
not sure they would ever be safe in South Africa.
In fact, the death toll from the attacks
on black African immigrants reached 62, according to what national police spokeswoman Sally de Beer said on 30 May 2008. The
previous death toll was 56, but some of the injured died in hospitals. And there was no guarantee it would not continue to
And it did. The final death toll was
said to be 65. Then later, about mid-June, a Mozambican immigrant was stoned and burned to death by black South Africans in
the Pretoria area, a clear and strong warning to black African immigrants that they were still not welcome in the country.
According to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) News, Johannesburg, 14 June 2008:
“Another Mozambican has died
at the hands of an angry mob, this time in Atteridgeville near Pretoria. Police say the 30-year-old man was dowsed with petrol
and stoned to death in the Phomolong section of the township.
The attackers accused the victim of
being part of a group that had burnt a shack belonging to a local. Police have ruled out xenophobia. Spokesperson Thomas Mufamadi
says armed criminals attacked the man, robbing him of cash. However, the man's family says he lost three spaza shops during
previous xenophobic attacks. A woman has also been arrested.
Ernesto Nhamwavane became the face
of last month's xenophobic attacks gripping South Africa after pictures of him burning alive were splashed on the front pages
of newspapers worldwide. He was attacked by a mob of 100 people in the Ramaphosa squatter camp on the East Rand. More than
60 people died in the anti-immigrant violence.
Meanwhile, the Gauteng Provincial Government
has promised victims of xenophobic attacks that they are doing everything in their power to make it safe for them to return
to their homes.
This morning about 200 foreign nationals
marched to the offices of Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa in the Johannesburg CBD to hand over a memorandum. The memorandum
addressed to President Thabo Mbeki calls for an end to xenophobic violence and urgent implementation of the foreigners' re-integration
programme. Gauteng Premier Spokesperson, Simon Zwane, received the memorandum.”
About three weeks before that incident
in the Pretoria area which claimed the life of the Mozambican immigrant, the president of the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom
Party (IFP), Mangosuthu Buthelezi, visited the victims of the xenophobic violence in Alexandra township on Saturday, 24 May
2008, and also visited Germiston and Thokoza townships, saying: “Now that we have gained our freedom, we push aside
the very people who helped liberate us from oppression.” He was quoted by the Sowetan, 26 May 2008.
Yet, some of the victims wondered,
where was he when the violence was going on? As one displaced Zimbabwean asked: “Where was Buthelezi when people were
His party, the IFP, had been accused
of being one of the forces - and in many cases of being the primary force - behind the violence, inciting mobs to attack and
drive foreigners out of the country.
But even if it played such a role,
which it probably did, that did not explain all the violence in different parts of country in which black South Africans of
other tribes, and not just the Zulu, were also involved.
In fact, more attacks took place on
Monday, 26 May 2008, the same day the government announced that the attacks had been brought under control. And foreigners
still living in some parts of South Africa which were supposed to be safe for them during the xenophobic campaign did not
Take the case of Janet Phiri, for example,
an immigrant from Zambia who lived in an area of Soweto that was supposed to be safe for foreigners. She did not feel safe
and there was no guarantee she would be safe if she continued to live there. And she knew that she wasn't always welcome in
She was interviewed by Bruce Faser
of the Sowetan on Monday, 26 May 2008, the same day some foreigners were attacked
in Diepsloot, an area north of Johannesburg. According to the report entitled “Suvivor in Soweto”:
“Sowetan meets a Zambian lady living in Soweto, who has had to overcome the death of her husband, separation
from her children, difficulty with officialdom and battled to find work to feed herself. Now she fears for her life
Sitting in Moroko
Park, Soweto, feels like a million miles away from the mayhem that is Alexandra township.
To one side young
men take part in an impromptu game of football, lovers stroll lazily through the well-manicured gardens, people gather to
braai a piece of meat for lunch.
While on the other
side of town the recent xenophobic attacks have brought shame on our country, here in Moroka the scene is peaceful …
but one that could easily change.
are nothing new. Sadly they have become a regular occurance in many African countries as well as those in Eastern Europe but
the bloody violence of this past week is a sobering realisation that things are far from well at home.
'The attacks on
foreigners that we have recently seen could easily spread. Just this morning there were reports of attacks in Diepsloot,'
a visibly worried Janet Phiri (not her real name) explains....
Setting up an interview
with Phiri, a Zambian, presented its problems.
She flatly refused
to be photographed or filmed and insisted that her name be changed so there is no way she can be identified. Nonetheless hers
is a story worth relating.
of her fellow countrymen, Phiri, 39, left Zambia for what she believed would be a better life in South Africa.
from Kabulonga High School in Lusaka, Zambia, she went on to study business management at a local college.
Her family have
always been involved in the meat industry and it wasn’t long before she opened a butchery along with a hair salon.
Although her businesses
did well and her husband had a good job in the IT profession, they decided on emigrating to South Africa where they felt the
opportunities were greater.
'My husband came
down in 2000 and I followed shortly afterwards. Our three children remained behind with my parents until we were properly
settled. My husband had a work permit but I had to wait three years before I qualified for one. In the meantime I decided
to do a business administration course through Damelin in Midrand,' she explains.
Her husband quickly
found the work and environment of Johannesburg stimulating and rapidly rose through the ranks of his company to eventually
become group managing director with a seven percent stake in the company.
The children soon
joined them and life seemed perfect ... until mid-2006.
'My husband was
complaining now and then of chest pains and was put on medication. His health deteriorated rapidly and tragically he died
With three children
to look after and no work permit, Janet had no choice but to send her kids back home to Lusaka to live with her parents.
It has not been
easy for her since the death of her husband but she refuses to give up.
I have a work permit. A lot of foreigners are educated and I am proud to say that, but when I go for a job people often say
‘Why give a foreigner a job?’ Despite all that I am a proud Zambian.'
The recent wave
of xenophobic attacks are obviously a worry for any immigrant to South Africa and Janet is obviously concerned.
Her features are
distinctly Zambian and she knows it.
'The problems the
people in Alexandra are facing, tomorrow I can face them. People in Alex say foreigners are getting RDP houses – taking
their wives and husbands – come on, I just can’t walk into someone else’s house.'
As a foreigner
Janet tries her best to blend in with the local community.
'When you go to
Rome you do as the Roman’s do, so when I arrived in South Africa I decided to try and fit in. Let me give you a small
'In Zambia we eat
pap with spoons and here with your hands … so I said to myself ‘let me eat with my hands.’ There is a very
nice saying: ‘Don’t act big in a small world’. Generally foreigners get along with local people which makes
these latest incidents very sad. Seeing what is happening is heartbreaking as they are foreigners just like me. It is terrible
to see how the people are suffering.'
During the days
of apartheid many South Africans went into exile in countries such as Zambia. There is a feeling that when South Africans
needed a home neighbouring countries opened their doors. Today, South Africa is not only closing that door but slamming it
shut in the face of immigrants.
'When the president
of South Africa was in exile in our country we treated him as a brother. When he was thirsty we gave him water … now
is the time for him to give us a cup of water. Where is he now?
'Those same men
that came to Zambia are today driving Prado’s or even in government, but their kids are suffering. We gave them food,
education … they fathered kids with out sisters. We don’t tell those kids to go back to South Africa. These kids
don’t even know who their fathers are – they just disappeared.'
Today Janet is
working for an NGO that specialises in educating children on life skills.
Emphasis is placed
on the importance of education and trying to steer them away from the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
For any immigrant
life can be tough without a family support system around you and for Janet it is no different.
'I miss my friends,
family and especially my children. I phone them at least once a week but it never seems enough. Also without my husband it
is tough. We used to love watching soccer together. He used to support Chiefs, me Pirates.... We used to sit in front of the
TV, he with his Amstel, me with my Hunters, and cheer for our sides. Today I prefer not to watch football because it brings
back too many painful memories.'
Instead she has
immersed herself in her work and any spare time is spent reading or going to church.
One plan she has
for the future is organising a forum for foreigners that will help guide and integrate them into South African society. 'Maybe
then we can avoid the tragedy that is unfolding before us today.'
that people might be suspicious as to why she was talking to a white person in Soweto, she left me with these words. 'A rich
man without a dream is poorer than a poor guy with a dream.'”
The xenophobic violence against the immigrants in May 2008 was organised terror. And it required
an appropriate response, especially after it was clear, as was indeed the case, that the police alone would not be able to
cope with it.
But the police themselves were slow to respond when the violence erupted.
And they used heavy-handed tactics in their dealings with many foreigners. Many policemen had also been known to demand bribes
from foreigners, especially African immigrants, through the years. According to a report on the xenophobic attacks published
in the Mail&Guardian, Johannesburg, 22 May 2008, “We
Should Not Look for Scapegoats”:
“A Somali community in Johannesburg
on Thursday accused police of firing live ammunition at its members as more xenophobic attacks were reported in Gauteng and
former Cabinet minister Kader Asmal questioned claims of 'third force' involvement in the attacks.
At least 42 people have been killed and 17,000 displaced in the fierce violence that started in
Alexandra on May 11.
Tensions are running high among communities of foreign nationals who have come under attack in
the past week. Scores of Somalis have fled Gauteng townships to Mayfair in central Johannesburg, where there is a large Somali
Angry onlookers wanted to know why police were using live ammunition in an area with so many children.
Abbas Mohammed, aged nine, said: 'They almost shot us with a gun.'
[Somali] community leader Mohammed Abdul Hakir said, 'People are on edge'....'They said [to the
police], 'When we are being looted, you are not there. So why are you shooting now?'....
Numerous Somali people on the scene complained
to the Mail&Guardian (reporters) about being hassled by corrupt police
officials asking them for bribes.
They claimed it is an everyday occurrence,
with a South African resident agreeing, alleging police come 'every weekend to take money from the foreigners.'
An average bribe is reportedly between
R2,000 and R5,000.
Firdose Ali (not her real name) said:
'They always come to ask for papers. If you don't have, you must give them money. They search our rooms and take anything
they want, like phones and TVs. If you can afford to give them money, you can get your stuff back. The bad ones are from John
Vorster [police station].'
Another witness on the scene, Abdul
Bille Hassan -- a survivor of past xenophobic violence in Pretoria -- recalled: 'We had a shop and in the middle of the night
[at the time] they came and poured petrol around the house.'
He spent three months in hospital and
has become increasingly distressed this week by the wave of attacks.
Meanwhile, xenophobic violence broke
out again in Ramaphosa informal settlement on the East Rand on Thursday, the South African Broadcasting Corporation reported.
The renewed attacks, in which a number
of shacks were set alight, happened as Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and the Kenyan high commissioner to
South Africa, Thomas Amolo, visited foreigners affected by the recent violence in the area.”
The government should have declared a state of emergency and sent in troops from the army to contain
the situation before it deteriorated. And the perpetrators of the violence should have been dealt with, ruthlessly, right
away, within the bounds of the law.
It was not until 10 days later that President Thabo Mbeki authorised military intervention to assist
the police in an attempt to stop the violence. The xenophoic attacks started on Sunday, 11 May 2008. Mbeki authorised assistance
by the South African national Defence Force (SANDF) on Wednesday, 21 May 2008.
The attackers had whole 10 days to wreak havoc on the black African immigrants, with impunity,
while the national government virtually looked the other way and did nothing to stop the violence all those days. Regional
police forces left by themselves to deal with the crisis, and only half-heartedly even on their part, and without any help
from the national government as if it was a minor regional problem, until it was almost too late! With many people dead, and
almost 30,000 uprooted and displaced, left with nothing, after all their property was looted and destroyed by their attackers.
The violence left bitter memories among the victims And it soured relations between the South Africans
and the people from t other African countries.
Even other Africans in different parts of the continent and elsewhere were bitter and saddened
by what happened to their compatriots in South Africa and were quick to remind black South Africans that it was they, fellow
Africans, who helped to free them from apartheid; only to be kicked in the mouth, in the groin and in the stomach as an expression
of gratitude for all what they had done for them during their darkest hour, and days, when they were suffering under racial
oppression by whites and needed help to win their freedom.
People saw friends and relatives killed right in front of them. And the
survivors left South Africa with those bitter memories. As the Mail&Guardian, Thursday, 22 May 2008, stated in its report entitled, “'I Saw My Friend Being Killed
in Front of Me'”:
Regina Chinyandi (21), of Zimbabwe, arrived
at the Alexandra police station on Monday with her one-day-old baby, Prince, wrapped in a napkin. Upon her return home from
the hospital after giving birth, she had found her shack in ruins and all her friends from the township missing.
'Confused, she started walking, unable to afford taxi money to the nearest police station,' says
Flora Shabangu, clinic manager at the charity organisation Woman and Men against Child Abuse's Kidz clinic in Boksburg. She
is currently assisting at the police station.
'When she arrived here, she was exhausted,' Shabangu says.
Chinyandi is lying on the floor, under a single blanket, still too exhausted to talk. She is just
one of the about 27,000 foreigners left homeless in Gauteng since fierce xenophobic attacks started 11 days ago in Alexandra
According to police, by late on Wednesday, 42 people had been killed and 400 arrested for various
offences related to the violence.
There are now 21 volunteers working at the Alexandra police station, which houses hundreds of foreigners
who come and go. 'My legs are paining [hurting],' says Elizabeth Mokoena, a community coordinator volunteering at the station.
'I sleep at the police station to try to help these people every night.'
Refugees at the police station in Diepkloof, which has also seen violent attacks in the past week,
say they don't know the scope of the attacks, since they have no newspapers to read or access to any other media.
'We are just sitting here. Stranded. Not knowing where to go or what is happening next,' says Michael
Mwale (47), a Zimbabwean who has been at the station for more than a week.
'We have not bathed for a week,' he says. 'We have no buckets or soap and we need shoes and jackets.
Blankets are a problem. I was cold last night. It is winter. There arrived 10 more people today [Wednesday] and they don't
have blankets yet -- and some of them have children.'
Mwala was unable to find employment in Zimbabwe and came to South Africa searching for a job to
provide for his children. 'I am still unemployed because I could not find a job here either. Now I am stranded here and I
still can't send money to my family.'
Another stranded foreigner, Charles Munganya (20), from Malawi, used to be a shop employee in Marabastad
in Pretoria. He has lost everything in the attacks.
'I wanted to save money to do something good in my country. I wanted to be a crop and maize farmer
and start my own business at home. They [the attackers] took everything I had. That means I worked so hard for nothing.'
Like many other foreigners, Munganya will do anything to return to his home country. 'It is better
to be killed at home than to be killed in another country,' he says. 'I saw my friend being killed in front of me. He was
lying in his bed with dead eyes. He was beaten to death.'
Manganya says that local officials have told foreigners that buses will return them to their home
countries, but the refugees do not know when -- or if -- this will happen. 'Even if I go home, I will never put my foot in
this country again. This country is only for South Africans,' he says.
At the Diepkloof police station, there are nine volunteers serving the growing number of foreigners
arriving at the station. According to a police officer, who asked not to be identified, there have been rumours of South Africans
planning to drive the foreign refugees out of the police station, 'taking away the only shelter that they have.'
Another officer at the station says police have been working around the clock to contain violence
in the area.
'I have been working from early this morning and I will only be returning home at 7pm tonight.
Then I have to be back at work at 11pm. I am really tired,' she says, rushing off to Olievenhoutbosch, a nearby informal settlement
where tension was reported late on Wednesday afternoon.
At the Bramley police station, close to Alexandra, 14 women and 10 children are sleeping in a garage.
Outside, 120 men are housed in tents. There are eight portable toilets around the station for the 144 people housed there.
'We only escaped with the clothes on our backs,' says Nonhlanhla Luphahla (24), from Zimbabwe.
She appreciates the three basic meals the refugees receive every day, prepared from donations.
Unlike the foreigners housed at the Diepsloot police station, those at Bramley are lucky enough
to be able to bathe, using buckets.
'But it is hard to bathe in cold water in winter,' says Luphahla. She shakes her head. 'I just
The catastrophe could have been averted with timely intervention and with the necessary amount
of force, especially from the army.
The deputy president of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), Kgalema
Motlanthe, also acknowledged that the police, hence the government, did not respond fast enough and when they should have.
As the Mail&Guardian stated in its report on Thursday, 22 May
2008, “ANC on Xenophobic Attacks: Cops Acted Too Slowly”:
African National Congress (ANC) deputy
president Kgalema Motlanthe on Thursday said the police responded too slowly to the first xenophobic attacks in Alexandra.
This came as it was reported that anti-foreigner violence had spread to North West.
More than 40 people have been killed since the outbreak of xenophobic attacks on foreigners in
Alexandra on May 11....
'The area where this problem started should have been cordoned off immediately, but the delay encouraged
people in similar environments to wage similar attacks,' he said....
Meanwhile, South African troops prepared on Thursday to enter townships to help police end the
wave of xenophobic attacks.
President Thabo Mbeki's call for the army's intervention was an acknowledgment that the attacks
on foreigners had become a national crisis that threatened to destabilise Africa's largest economy.
More than 15,000 migrant workers and their families have fled to refugee camps after 11 days of
attacks by mobs armed with clubs, knives and jugs of petrol. Several people have been burned to death and scores of shacks
looted and torched.
Soldiers are expected to participate in joint operations with police, who have failed to prevent
the anti-foreigner attacks from spreading from Johannesburg area shantytowns to other parts of the nation, including KwaZulu-Natal,
Mpumalanga and North West....
The attacks on African migrants, accused by many poor South Africans of taking scarce jobs and
fuelling crime, has increased political instability at a time of power shortages, rising inflation and disaffection over Mbeki's
The South African currency weakened sharply earlier this week on the back of the violence.
....'We must leave, it is not safe here,' a Zimbabwean woman said on Wednesday as she
left the Primrose informal settlement outside Johannesburg where gangs of youths burnt and looted migrants' shacks.
Others, especially migrants from neighbouring Mozambique, are also making plans to leave South
Africa, which has a population of about 50-million and is home to an estimated five million immigrants.
The biggest immigrant group -- an estimated three million -- are from neighbouring Zimbabwe. They
have fled economic collapse at home and the violent political stand-off there since disputed March 29 elections.
South Africa's reputation as a haven for immigrants and asylum seekers is in tatters, and there
are growing fears that the crisis could dent the country's lucrative tourism industry and cripple its hosting of the 2010
Soccer World Cup.
Government officials have raised the possibility that the attacks were not spontaneous but organised,
possibly for political reasons. Four community leaders are among the more than 400 people arrested in connection with the
When the attacks spread to Cape Town on 22 May 2008, the violence sent even more shock waves through
the black immigrant community, serving as a warning to the immigrants that the entire country could be engulfed in this wave
of terror and xenophobic violence.
And there were indications that it was far from over, as more attacks -
on the same day, May 22nd - took place in the North West Province and in Durban as well as other parts of KwaZulu/Natal Province where
more black African immigrants were attacked and their property destroyed. The victims included Malawians, Nigerians, Mozambicans
and many others. At least two Malawians were shot in Durban. One died.
The Sowetan, in its edition of 23 May 2008, had this to say on the violence in Durban and other parts of KwaZulu /Natal
Province, “More Assaults in Durban”:
“Another five foreigners were injured
after being assaulted on Friday in Durban’s Quarry Heights area, police said....
Earlier, KwaZulu-Natal Safety and Security
MEC Bheki Cele said 10 people had been arrested for attacks on foreigners in the province. He was speaking to Sapa as details
of several overnight attacks on foreigners in Durban were reported to police....He said he had spoken to some foreigners and
was told 'astounding things.'
'I was told that those attacking foreigners
had a list of all the foreigners and details of where they stayed. This is because some foreigners were being harassed since
1992 and their attackers live nearby, he said.
In other incidents, two homes allegedly
belonging to foreigners were burnt down in Durban’s Kenville area on Thursday and Friday....
There was a separate incident at the
Kenville informal settlement on Thursday night were a shack was burnt down.
“Two foreigners were injured
in that incident as well.” Meanwhile, a 23-year old Malawian man was shot as hundreds of foreigners gathered at Durban’s
Cato Manor police station on Thursday night.
Netcare 911 spokesman Chris Botha said
the man had been shot twice in the abdomen. He was in a serious but stable condition at a local hospital.
The man was the second Malawian to
be shot in Durban in as many days.
A Malawian was taken to hospital on
Wednesday night after he was shot twice in the chest in the same area.
At the Cato Manor police station about
three hundred foreigners - mostly Zimbabweans, Mozambicans and Malawians - had gathered out of fear of possible attacks.
In Chatsworth, dozens of foreigners
sought shelter at a local community hall also for fear of becoming a victims of xenophobia.
Earlier in the week. scores of foreigners
living in the Umbilo area packed their bags and were seen leaving the area.”
And according to BBC Africa, Friday, 23 May 2008, in its report, “ANC Call to Retake The
“The secretary general of
South Africa's governing ANC has called on party members to form local committees to combat violence against foreigners.
Gwede Mantashe says that they should work to 'take the streets back from criminals,' whilst giving
support to the police and help to the victims.
The unrest has now spread to Cape Town, with people assaulted and shops looted....
On Thursday, troops were deployed to quell attacks - the first time soldiers have been used to
stamp out unrest in South Africa since the 1994 end of apartheid....
Mr Mantashe reminded South Africans of
their link to the rest of the continent ahead of Africa Day celebrations on Sunday (25 May 2008)....
'Many of us... will think of the kindness
we received in the poorest communities of Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Nigeria and many other African states.'
Anti-apartheid fighters in the ANC
were given shelter in other African countries, some of which suffered collective punishment as a result, he recalled.
Meanwhile ANC Youth League President
Julius Malema condemned the fact that youngsters appeared to be some of the ringleaders of the attacks, often using the name
of the party and singing revolutionary songs whilst carrying out attacks....
Mr Malema said the government had not
done enough to stop what it called "anarchy" and said swift and decisive action was needed from the country's law enforcement
The leader of South Africa's official
opposition, Helen Zille, says the events of the past two weeks have shocked and shamed the nation.
Ms Zille, head of the Democratic Alliance,
says in her weekly newsletter that President Thabo Mbeki has been conspicuous by his absence, not even visiting the affected
areas to see for himself what is driving the violence.
She said the president should be actively
campaigning in the country's trouble spots and preaching a message of tolerance.
Meanwhile, the authorities in Malawi
says they have begun evacuating hundreds of Malawians from South Africa.
Officials said a task force had been
set up to return up to 850 Malawians, who had been affected by the violence in South Africa.
The attacks in Cape Town, the hub of
South Africa's tourism industry, broke out during a meeting called to prevent anti-foreigner violence in the Dunoon township,
25km from the city centre.
John, a Malawian at the Dunoon meeting,
said it disintegrated and foreigners started fleeing as groups began to loot Somali-owned shops.
'We feared for our safety. They're
just killing everyone - they start beating you when they find out you're a foreigner,' he told the BBC, adding that he was
returning home as soon as possible.
Thursday night's unrest prompted some
500 people, including Somalis, Mozambicans and Nigerians, as well as Zimbabweans to flee their homes, some seeking refuge
in police stations.
The BBC's Mohammed Allie in Cape Town
says Somali shops were looted overnight and one Somali killed and six others injured.
He says there have been shack-to-shack
searches for foreigners and some local residents have begun flying the South African flag outside their homes.
There have also been new attacks in
Strand, east of Cape Town, Durban and North-West province, where three people, reportedly from Pakistan, were stabbed and
dozens of Mozambican and Somali nationals displaced.
There are fears that the unrest could
have longer-term consequences for the country.
Moeketski Mosola, head of South Africa
Tourism, told the BBC the government was alarmed by the situation, especially as the country was preparing to host the football
World Cup in 2010.
'We are extremely concerned about the
situation on the ground - you must remember that 67% of the tourists coming into South Africa are mainly African,' he told
the BBC's World Tonight programme....
Cape Town first witnessed xenophobic
attacks two years ago (in 2006) when the Somali community - especially those who owned shops - were targeted and some murdered.”
The attacks in Cape Town in May 2008, which came after the xenophobic violence in Johannesburg
a few days earlier, were bad enough and bad as the rest in terms of hostility towards black African immigrants. But they also
showed the government's failure and unwillingness – at the national level - to address the problem.
After the attacks in Johannesburg, the government should have anticipated similar outbreaks in
the nation's second largest city (Cape Town) and should have put the army on alert, ready to move in, even if the government
did not – for whatever reason – believe that the attacks on black African immigrants in Cape Town and other parts
of the Western Cape Province would not be of the same intensity, and on the same magnitude, as the vicious attacks which had
taken a few days earlier in Alexandra and other areas of Joahnnesburg.
President Mbeki did not
even address the nation to condemn the attacks when the violence first erupted; nor did he tour the areas which had been hit
by this wave of xenophobia to see the damage for himself and send a powerful signal to the attackers that this kind of thing
would not be tolerated in the new South Africa.
He did not even go to see
the victims in the places where they had sought refuge to console them and reassure them that the government would take stern
measures to stop the violence and punish the culprits and protect foreigners in South Africa.
He should have gone on national television to give a strong speech condemning the violence, making
it clear that this is not the kind of new South Africa the people wanted to build after the end of apartheid.
He should also have told his national audience that this was a national crisis which would be dealt
with, accordingly, using every available means including military force.
He did not do that. And that may have been interpreted by the mobs attacking the immigrants as
a signal to carry on the violence without fear of being severely punished by the authorities.
The xenophobic violence, by black South Africans against fellow blacks from other parts of Africa,
was now the new apartheid.
No one was spared. As long as you were a black foreigner, and within grasp, you were fair game.
While the vast majority of those who were attacked were poor immigrants living in shanty towns and other parts of the black
townships with poor black South Africans, middle-class black immigrants were also among the victims.
One of the victims a Congolese engineer whose fate clearly demonstrated
that a higher economic and social status of black African immigrants did not necessarily guarantee them security even if they
lived in good areas. Even some of their neighbours in these areas turned against them. As Imke van Hoom stated in a report
in the Johannesburg Mail&Guardian, Friday, 23 May 2008, entitled “A
Family's Life: Only Shattered Glass and Paper Remain”:
“The rooms are empty; the furniture
is gone. The windows are broken and there is glass on the ground. The floor is littered with papers, family photographs and
There is a dejected look in the eyes of Willy Tshitende as he looks around the living room of his
brutally plundered home in Jeppestown, Johannesburg. 'My heart is bleeding. I can't understand ... I can't understand,' says
Like thousands of other foreigners, Tshitende and his family -- who are originally from the Democratic
Republic of Congo -- had to flee their home this week because of fierce xenophobic violence in Gauteng. They are now staying
in the garden of the Jeppe police station in central Johannesburg, where they sleep and eat outside.
Standing in the glass of the broken windows in front of his house -- a free-standing, three-storey
building painted light pink with green window frames -- Tshitende relives the night almost a week ago when an angry mob arrived
at his door. "They say, 'If you don't open, when we come inside, we rape your children and we show you how to do it,'" he
The mob wanted to set the house on fire. 'That's when the panic started. If they put fire with
these [gas] bottles we got here, then we are dead. Kids wanted to jump from the balcony.'
He points to the area in front of his house that is now glittering with shattered glass. 'But how
can you jump while this angry mob is still down here?'
We enter the house through a broken door. Says Tshitende: 'This was the living room.' He pauses
and stares at the mess of scattered personal belongings. 'Here we were sitting, the kids were playing …'
He finds a photo album on the ground, picks it up and opens it to look at the family pictures inside.
Pointing at one of the photographs, he says: 'This must be friends of my father. He used to be a director of Alliance Française
in Jo'burg. He had a lot of friends.' He adds: 'They just threw it on the ground.'
Tshitende and his family came to South Africa in 1997. He started working as a mechanical engineer
and, five years ago, he bought the three-storey building not far from the Johannesburg CBD. The family liked the neighbourhood
and got along well with the street's other residents.
But, says Tshitende, everything is different now. 'When we had to flee the house, we gave some
of our furniture to our neighbours. They offered to take care of it. But when we came back to get it, nothing was there.'
He adds: 'Those neighbours with whom I used to talk, with whom I used to laugh, whit whom I used
to share jokes ... now they didn't greet me, they didn't talk to me. They were looking at me as if [I were] a stranger [they
saw] for the first time.'
Tshitende picks up an encyclopedia and other books that were left behind by the mob. 'These are
very expensive books. Math books, engineering books. They leave it on the floor just like that ... For them it means nothing,
but for me it means a lot.'
He continues: 'If you see these books, then it gives you a picture of people who went to school.
These people [the xenophobic mobs], they don't even realise that foreigners do contribute.'
Tshitende doesn't understand why people think he is stealing their jobs. 'I didn't steal a job
from anyone. My job is advertised in the newspaper almost every day. I go for the job, they phone me for an interview, I qualify
and start working. Who can say that I take that job away from him?'
With the photo album and a stack of books on his arms, Tshitende and his family leave the house.
Children who are playing in the street come up to him, asking if their friends -- his family's
children -- will be back. But Tshitende thinks he will never return. 'I don't know what is going to happen, but I am sure
we just want to forget about this place. In one day, in one night, everything is gone.'
He adds: 'If they had the power to build like the power they have to destroy, this country should
[get] very, very far.'
South Africans who waged this vicious xenophobic campaign against the black immigrants from other
parts of Africa did not care whether or no the immigrants made a great contribution to South Africa's economic growth. They
were not impressed.
Also most of the immigrants, including the poorest, are not supported by the government and survive
on their own, doing the best they can to make it life.
And many of them have gradually climbed up the economic ladder by sheer hard work. Even a significant
number of poor immigrants have managed to build their own houses. They did not government help to build those houses. And
they don't expect to get any government help.
A significant number of them have also sought employment in South Africa, and have been able to
get those jobs, because South African employers wanted to hire them and opportunities for employment were advertised in South
Sheer hard work and skills including high educational qualifications are
some of the main reasons black African immigrants have been able to succeed in life in South Africa, inflaming passions among
black South Africans who claim the immigrants are stealing jobs from them – and even their wives and girlfriends! As
Michael Gomo, a Zimbabwean in South Africa, stated in his article published in the Mail&Guardian, 23 May 2008:
“There is nothing here about taking
anyone's job. I visited Zimbabweans in Alexandra recently. They came here as refugees from the economic situation in their
country. They worked hard for a few years and saved some rands. They opened corner shops where the neighbourhood bought household
goods. These shops were not there before, and they identified an opportunity to serve the community.
It is horrifying that anyone in his right mind should think that a foreigner who has opened a shop
is taking away someone's job when, in fact, he or she is employing local people.
We have had our own experiences with foreigners in Zimbabwe, but we never treated them the way
they are being treated here. We hosted colleagues from South Africa during the apartheid era. They were never harassed to
such a dehumanising extent, nor asked for papers. We even hosted some of the African National Congress leadership, and I am
pretty sure other neighbouring countries such as Mozambique (Tanzania and Zambia) did the same until South Africa got its
Please note: I am not saying it is payback time. I am simply asking: Why can't you be an understanding
society as we were when you needed us? Let me not ask why white foreigners are safer in South Africa than their black counterparts.
I still remember vividly when the Mozambique National Resistance (MNR) invaded the western parts
of Mozambique and eastern regions of Zimbabwe in the late 1980s. Millions of Mozambicans flocked into Zimbabwe. Men and women,
young and old, professionals and the rest, all walked very long distances into the country.
The MNR even invaded parts of Zimbabwe, killing thousands of people in the process. Yes, we lost
our relatives and friends in the process. But I still remember that more than 1,000 people came to our village for safety.
The village elders didn't chase them away.
They were given a place to stay. They actually slept in the open, in the field, in the few houses
-- particularly the women with children.
I was one of those displaced from my bedroom to accommodate women who had young children. I slept
outside just like everyone else. I never complained that a foreigner took my bedroom. I didn't even complain that it was winter
and it was very cold outside.
We didn't complain that they were finishing our food because there was plenty in the field. We
understood that it was a difficult situation for them and they needed someone to assist. Our elders understood there were
laws of humanity to be followed. In South Africa, it seems that sometimes laws are nothing but political rhetoric.
Some foreigners decided to proceed, but others remained. Those who remained were absorbed into
our families. Some of the Mozambicans looked for jobs while others became domestic workers or cattle herders. Those with families
were given small pieces of land to grow their own crops.
Their children joined us at school. Despite their poor English -- they spoke Portuguese -- they
were very good in mathematics. Together, as young children, we forged relationships; they taught us maths and we taught them
Today, as I write this piece 22 years down the line, we have people in Mozambique whom we now call
our relatives. They were never threatened, killed or asked for their identity documents. They were treated like human beings.
Remember, this was just six years after we had attained our independence, while in South Africa 14 years have already passed.
If you ask my elders, they will tell you that there was a time when people from Malawi flocked
into Zimbabwe. Even today they constitute a sizeable percentage of the population. They have an equal share of everything.
They came and looked for jobs, and settled in Zimbabwe. Today they are Zimbabweans.
There was a time when there were more Malawians owning houses in Harare than locals, because our
people believed they didn't need a house in town as they already had a home in the rural areas. By then the Malawians were
buying houses; today, if you go to some of the townships, especially in Harare, there are more people of Malawian origin than
Zimbabweans never complained. Instead they also started buying or building houses in Harare. We
learnt our lessons, sometimes the hard way, and we took it as competition. Foreigners, because they had houses in urban areas,
also had access to basic services such as good schools, clinics and so forth. They were part of us and we were together. These
are the people who make Zimbabwe today.
There was a time when the government ventured into housing programmes. A noble idea it was, but
the Zimbabweans that I know would rather join a stand-allocation waiting list than get a government house.
They would prefer to build the house of their choice, to do it they own way -- unlike some people
who still think a leader isn't a good leader because he didn't build a house for them; unlike some people in Mpumalanga who
believe it is not a good idea to get a stand but rather a complete house from the government. They would rather let a Zimbabwean
buy that stand and kill them later.
That's not the spirit of togetherness. The more you wait, the more the frustration. By the time
you wake up, that foreigner will be a better person than you are. This world is not going to wait for waiters. Wake up and
smell the coffee, South Africans!”
The attackers who unleashed this xenophobic violence in many parts of the country wanted only one
thing: kick the black African immigrants out of South Africa by attacking, maiming and killing them, and by instilling fear
in them, and sending a warning to others to never come to South Africa.
They lost their conscience.
Appeal to conscience to people who have no conscience as was clearly demonstrated by the brutal
violence they perpetrated including murder without the slightest concern for the well-being of their victims; professions
of piety, and condemnation of the wicked by invoking morality, is not enough. There are many issues that can not be resolved
in the chambers of moral tribunal. And this is one of them. The perpetrators of such violence must be punished severely and
get the maximum sentence in prison.
There also other ways to address the problem.
Illegal immigrants already in South Africa should be granted amnesty and accorded legal status
leading to full citizenship.
The attacks on immigrants have also demonstrated the urgency of the situation concerning their
There is an imperative for parliament to pass a law making it a hate crime to attack immigrants.
And the law should carry stiff penalties including years in prison for the perpetrators of such violence.
With regard to the influx of immigrants into South Africa, something must done to stem the tide.
And it must start at the borders. A country can take in only so much, beyond which conflict is inevitable. No country, not
even the richest country on the earth, the United States, can afford to leave its gates wide open and simply let in anybody
who wants to come in.
The government must secure the borders to regulate immigration. There must also be a limit to the
number of immigrants allowed into South Africa every year.
Also turn off the tap. The incentive is jobs. Make it virtually impossible for illegal immigrants
to get jobs in South Africa.
Every potential employee must show an identity card that can be verified immediately through by
some kind of central registry which must show that the information on the card matches what the government has in its data
base concerning the identity of the person.
If there is no match, don't hire them. Many illegal immigrants will eventually be forced to go
back to their home countries, and others will be discouraged from going to South Africa, because they will not be able to
get jobs without legal status and proper identification.
Impose stiff penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants. For every illegal immigrant hired,
there must be penalties.
Make it costly to employers. They must be forced to suffer financially when they hire illegal immigrants.
They need to pay fines once caught. If they continue to hire illegal immigrants, their business licences should be suspended,
as a warning. And if they continue to do so, their business licences should be revoked. Let them know, and make it abundantly
clear, that they ignore the warning at their own risk.
Also, equal pay must be enshrined in the law. It should be illegal for employers to pay immigrants
low wages. Once you stop that, there won't be much incentive for employers to hire illegal immigrants and even legal residents
who are willing to work for low wages.
They like hiring them because they pay them less money, making it difficult for some black South
Africans to get jobs at higher wages for doing the same work.
But the main problem is that the government has not adequately addressed the problems of poverty
and unemployment. And if they continue to exist on a scale the people find to be intolerable, expect another explosion.
It's already a tinderbox ready to explode anytime, with black African immigrants being the primary
target. And they will continue to be the victims of xenophobic attacks whether they are legal immigrants or not. Angry black
South Africans don't make a distinction between the two. To them, they are all the same: foreigners who “take our”
jobs, houses – and even women!
But problems of unemployment and poverty can not be adequately addressed if the government does
not provide skills and training to the masses of unemployed and under-employed black South Africans who can not compete in
the job market with black African immigrants who are better educated and are equipped with skills many local people don't
The end of apartheid has not translated into economic transformation of the South African society
in a way that has benefited the masses the same way it has the elite. The biggest beneficiaries have been educated blacks
and the political elite, leading to phenomenal growth of a black middle class.
For some inexplicable reason, the national leadership and the middle class have misled themselves
into believing that economic benefits enjoyed by them are also being enjoyed or will be enjoyed by the masses simply because
black people now have political power and many blacks have climbed up the economic ladder as never before. It is a trickle-down
theory that has not been validated by experience.
The result have been tragic, with millions of black still trapped in the fetid swamp of poverty,
and their anger directed at black African immigrants who have nothing to do with their plight and who should be the last people
to be blamed for the plight of the masses in the townships and other parts of the country.
It is misplaced anger which should be directed at the government, not at the immigrants. Warning
signs have always been there since the end of apartheid, with the widening economic gap between the black middle and the masses
in the black townships being the most visible symbol of the government's failure and unwillingness to tackle poverty in a
way it should and could have.
National leaders and members of the black middle class have been able to insulate themselves from
the harsh realities of life in the townships and in the rural areas of South Africa because of their status and continue to
blame apartheid almost for everything that goes wrong in the country.
While the sins of apartheid can not be forgotten or ignored, and while it is true that the legacy
of this diabolical institution is very much a part of South African national life in many fundamental respects, the past can
not be blamed for everything.
If that is the case, then the government has nothing to do. And that is almost exactly what it
It has done virtually done nothing to alleviate the plight of the vast majority of black South
Africans since apartheid ended.
The African National Congress came to power on a wave of popularity because of its liberation credentials,
having led the campaign against apartheid, and promised the people a better future they never had under apartheid. And they
are still waiting.
But there is a limit to human patience, as the explosion in the townships has tragically demonstrated,
with frustrated and angry mobs rampaging, attacking, maiming and killing black African immigrants whom they blame for their
And the number of unemployed and uneducated black South Africans continues to rise at an alarming
rate, swelling the ranks of future mobs waiting to explode again at anytime. Black African immigrants, legal and illegal,
will continue to be the target until the anger among black South Africans is directed elsewhere, and at the right target,
And there will be no peace – except on the surface – until their problems are fully
addressed. Also, what should not be overlooked is that people who are frustrated and angry because of their deplorable condition
are not going to be very friendly with foreigners, especially if they see or believe that they make their condition worse.
Next, even the rampaging mobs – who work together and are united in a common cause against
black African immigrants – and other angry blacks are going to turn against each other.
Rivalries already exist among different ethnic groups in South Africa as they do elsewhere in other
African countries. But in a country where the gap between the rich and the poor is so wide because of the country's relatively
high standard of living, in the richest country in Africa, members of some tribes are going to start attacking members of
tribes who discriminate against them, exploit them and and deny them jobs and housing and other opportunities.
The Xhosa, the Zulu, the Sotho, the Venda, the Ndebele, the Tswana, the Shangaan, the Swazi and
others, many of them are going to turn against each other on ethnic basis. It's foreigners today, it's fellow South Africans
tomorrow, attacked with pangas, clubs, guns, knives, bricks and other weapons.
All that is misdirected anger. But a mass uprising against the government, especially in the townships
reminiscent of the insurgency against apartheid in the seventies and eighties, can not be entirely ruled out if nothing is
done alleviate the plight of the black masses trapped in poverty.
There is already enough anger against the government they feel has betrayed them. So it may be
simply a matter of time before this anger finds expression in a violent form directed against the leaders and against government
institutions which are seen as symbols of power that has become the new oppressor only dressed in a black skin.
It won't even be hard to find black South Africans who say they were economically better off under
apartheid than they are now under black majority rule. Many Indians, of course, and people of mixed race once officially known
as Coloureds, already say that.
So, it is not enough for the leaders and for the ruling African National Congress to tell the people:
“We freed you!” The people ask: “What have you done for us since apartheid ended?”
Since the end of apartheid, the multiracial democratic government has done a lot of things for
blacks and other non-whites which were never done before.
It has increased employment opportunities, improved education, provided housing, water and electricity
and even state grants – welfare assistance – for the poor. For example, provision of welfare benefits or assistance
is unheard of in most African countries. And that's something black people would never even have dreamed of under apartheid.
Yet apartheid was, for all practical purposes, a welfare state for whites.
Even people who work but earn low income qualify for welfare assistance, or state grants, to supplement
In a news report in the Sowetan,
May 2008, Social Development Minister Zola Skweyiya announced that people earning R2,200
a month would soon qualify for welfare assistance which was expected to help an additional two million South Africans.
The amount of 2,200 South Africa Rand
(2,200.00 ZAR) was, during that time, equivalent to about 289.00 United States Dollars (289.00 USD).
That's almost 300.00 American dollars,
an amount which is considered to be very good income per month in most African countries. For example, in Tanzania, during
the same period, the starting salary for university graduates with a bachelor's degree was 350,000 Tanzanian shillings, an
amount equivalent to about $300.00 (US dollars). Yet, in South Africa, that's low income even for illiterates, enabling them
qualify for state grants to supplement their earnings.
In Nigeria, many civil servants –
highly educated – earn 35,000 niara per month, an amount equivalent to $297.00 (American dollars). And many of them
have fled to South Africa.
So you can see why millions of people
from other African countries gravitate towards South Africa. The magnetic pull of the Rand is irresistible. There's a saying
among many Africans who go or those who dream of going to South Africa. They say, “South Africa is our New York.”
It is understandable, and even elicits
sympathy for them from some of the most hardened souls.
A Tanzanian university graduate who
earns about $300.00 – roughly equivalent to 2,200 South Africa Rand – per month in Tanzania is going to earn a
lot more than that in South Africa, incurring the wrath of many South African blacks for “stealing” jobs from
But even if he earns just $100.00 or
$200.00 more, up to $400.00 or $500.00 per month, hoping to earn even more in the future, he will be satisfied with that amount
because he would not have been able to earn that kind of money in his home country, Tanzania.
There are a few Tanzanian graduates
who earn more than $300.00 (USD) in Tanzania; for example, those with degrees in banking and finance including graduates from
Tanzania's highly rated Institute of Finance Management (IFM) in Dar es Salaam.
But that's not the case with the vast
majority of the college or university graduates with bachelor's degrees. And many Tanzanians who earn even far less than that
per month also flee to South Africa in search of greener pastures, especially coming from a country where the minimum wage
is equivalent to 65.00 American dollars per month.
If you tell them $300.00 per month
is considered to be very low income – at the poverty or below the level – in South Africa, they may find that
to be incomprehensible. They can't wait to get to South Africa. The same applies to other Africans, of course, from different
parts of the continent.
And when they get there, many employers
can't wait to hire them, usually at low wages, much lower than what black South African workers demand. It is a recipe for
catastrophe, especially in terms of relations between black South Africans and the black African immigrants.
Black South Africans feel that foreigners
have taken jobs away from them; they also feel that they have been left out by fellow South Africans, the employers –
mostly white – who prefer foreign workers whom they also praise for being hard workers.
So what do black South Africans do?
They cry for help. But no one is listening to them. Their plea for help has fallen on deaf ears. That's what they believe.
Are they right or wrong?
There is no question that blacks in South Africa today have opportunities they never had under
apartheid. Still, the government has not done enough.
And although it has introduced programmes such as welfare assistance, some of those programmes
are only palliative measures which do not address the fundamental problems the people face. For example, provision of welfare
assistance is not going to end poverty or help or enable poor people to climb up the economic ladder.
It does not even alleviate poverty. In fact, it can be counterproductive in many cases, encouraging
and perpetuating dependency on government handouts, instead of encouraging people to seek employment.
Therefore, problems of unemployment and poverty will continue to exist; and so will anger and frustration
among millions of poor black South Africans; and so will xenophobic terror to drive out black African immigrants who are accused
of “stealing” jobs from South African blacks, unless the South African society undergoes fundamental structural
changes to accommodate all South Africans on an equitable basis. Such changes also demand sacrifice from whites. They have
the biggest share of the economic pie.
But the people themselves should not expect the government to do everything for them.
Many black African immigrants who have become victims of xenophobic violence through the years
did not have anybody to help them in South Africa. They helped themselves against overwhelming odds.
They worked hard, many times at very low wages, and saved some money and started their own small
businesses and built houses or bought homes. The South African government did not do that for them.
Many black South Africans who complain that the immigrants are taking jobs away from them can do
the same thing. But they don't.
It's not uncommon to hear many black African immigrants say they work very hard for many hours,
take low-paying jobs, even skip meals sometimes, and save money to succeed in life while many black South Africans refuse
to take those jobs and spend their money on alcohol instead of saving to improve their lives.
Lack of values conducive to achievement is one of the main problems many black South Africans face.
Instant gratification is a priority for many of them in the townships, while black African immigrants focus on long-term goals
and postpone gratification.
Black South Africans can adopt and implement the values black African immigrants have. And at the
core of these values is the work ethic and sacrifice.
But the government can still do a lot to help black South Africans: provide education and skills
training, help create jobs and a climate conducive to investment and economic expansion, and provide opportunities, including
self-employment opportunities, to help millions of black South Africans succeed in life instead of being trapped in poverty
and drowning in a fetid swamp of misery without any hope in life.
There is also an imperative need to address the source of the immigrants who are being targeted
by black South Africans in xenophobic attacks across the country, blamed for perpetuating and even for causing the miserable
condition in which millions of South African blacks live. Otherwise it is going to be a chronic problem, and the immigrants
will continue to flock to South Africa.
African countries, which are the source of the immigrants, must do something to help their people.
They need good leadership more than anything else. They are a burden on South Africa.
A lot has been written about the immigrants from Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, and even those
from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Somalia and Ethiopia. While the numbers of legal and illegal immigrants from
these countries are large, immigrants from other African countries such as Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi
also live in South Africa in significant numbers. For example, there were about 20,000 Kenyans living in South Africa when
violence was unleashed against black African immigrants in the country.
And the people from all those countries were among the victims who were targeted in xenophobic
attacks in Johannesburg and other parts of South Africa in May 2008, and even before then through the years. For example,
about 500 Somalis were killed in South Africa in a relatively short period, of only a few years, before the violence in May
There are also large numbers of immigrants from as far away as West Africa, mainly from Nigeria,
Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia and other countries.
In fact, Nigerians constitute one f the largest groups of African immigrants in South Africa. They
were also among the prime targets of xenophobic attacks when their attackers went on the rampage with unconstrained fury.
And almost all these people left their home countries, and went to South Africa, mainly because
their leaders had failed to provide opportunities for them to succeed in life. And it is because of this tragic failure, failure
of leadership in their home countries, that many of them ended up being maimed and killed in South Africa, far away from home.
Even the survivors have now been scarred for life because of what they went through, all this because
of bad leadership in their home countries which forced them to risk their lives in search of opportunities elsewhere, in South
Africa, the rainbow nation which has yet to live up to its reputation as a truly rainbow nation.
And South Africa's image and reputation may have suffered irreparable damage
in the eyes of many Africans in other parts of the continent. According to a news report from Dakar, Senegal, in the Mail&Guardian, Friday, 23 May 2008, entitled “South Africa's Stature
Battered by Migrant Killings”:
“South Africa's aspirations to
lead the continent are being shredded by the xenophobic mobs who have hacked, shot and beaten to death at least 42 African
migrants in the land where apartheid was defeated.
The killing of Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, Nigerians and other Africans by machete-wielding gangs
of South Africans has been greeted with horror and outrage in states which once welcomed South African fugitives from racial
From Maputo to Lusaka to Luanda and further north, African populations that gave refuge to the
anti-apartheid African National Congress (ANC) are shocked to see their own people being slain and brutalised in ANC-ruled
'If South Africa could remember what we did for them during the apartheid regime, they shouldn't
be doing that to us,' said Emmanuel Efuk, a resident of Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos.
The mobs accuse the immigrants of depriving South Africans of scarce jobs and fuelling crime.
Governments, civil society groups and commentators say the violence is soiling the image South
Africa would like to project as a beacon of racial harmony and a continental peacemaker 14 years after apartheid ended.
'This appalling hunting of foreigners which stains the emblematic land of
South Africa must be lived as an unspeakable shame, a slap against the struggle of [anti-apartheid hero and former South African
president Nelson] Mandela,' the Senegalese private daily Sud Quotidien said in a commentary this week.
Many see South Africa under President Thabo Mbeki stumbling in its aspirations to represent Africa
in world forums, such as the United Nations Security Council, where Pretoria is campaigning for a permanent seat against other
contenders like Egypt and Nigeria.
Condemning the 'blind violence' of the attacks, the Dakar-based Pan-African human rights organisation
RADDHO said they dealt a heavy blow to Africa's leadership and image.
'It is difficult to understand how the
country which amply enjoyed the support of all African peoples in its fight against apartheid and which hosted the World Conference
against Racism and Xenophobia in 2001 can be the place where such events are taking place,' RADDHO said in a strongly-worded
Echoes of apartheid
The group sharply criticised Mbeki's
administration, already being accused of limp leadership in efforts to resolve the political crisis in Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans
fleeing turmoil at home have borne the brunt of the violence in South Africa.
'The South African government ... has been slow to take rigorous and firm measures to prevent the
massacre of African migrants,' the Dakar-based rights group said.
Observers said the images of migrants being hunted down and killed -- some doused with petrol and
set alight -- harked back to the violence of the apartheid years, when opponents of South Africa's white minority government
were shot and tortured by police and informers were necklaced with burning tyres.
Others recalled the times when "Frontline States" such as Zimbabwe and Mozambique, which sheltered
the ANC in exile, became the targets of military raids by the white apartheid government. Hundreds of African civilians were
Zimbabwe condemned the anti-migrant attacks in South Africa. "The government of Zimbabwe urges
those responsible for the xenophobic violence to appreciate that we in the SADC [Southern African Development Community] region
share a common history, a common culture and common destiny," the Foreign Ministry said.
One senior Zimbabwean official blamed what he called the 'white and Western-controlled' South African
media, saying it had run a campaign blaming other Africans, especially Zimbabweans, for South Africa's social and economic
Some analysts said the violence raised doubts about South Africa's suitability to host the 2010
Soccer World Cup.
'How can they host the world if they can't live side by side with people who are different from
them?' said George Pambason, director of the Cape Town-based Alliance for Refugees.
'This violence shows total ignorance and a society which is very eager to shed blood,' he added.”
By Monday, 26 May 2008, more than 20,000 Mozambicans had returned home. And thousands more were
still on the way.
About 25,000 Zimbabweans were expected to go to Zambia as they fled the violence in South Africa.
They avoided going to their home country because of the economic meltdown in Zimbabwe which had forced them in the first place
to seek refuge in South Africa. And more were on the way.
By 26 May 2008, more than 50,000 black African immigrants had been displaced nationwide. And the
number was expected to rise in the following days and weeks, as it did indeed.
On 27 May 2008, it was reported by BBC and other media outlets that the number of those who had
been displaced had reached 80,000, with tens of thousands of African immigrants leaving the country. And the number of those
who had been displaced was 100,000 during the first week of June and probably reach a quarter of a million in the following
weeks. According to the report by BBC, “Death Toll Climbs in South Africa Violence”:
“South Africa has given fresh
figures on the numbers of people killed and displaced by the wave of attacks on foreigners over the past two weeks.
Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula told the BBC 56 people had been killed....Previously,
50 deaths were reported.
More than 30,000 had been displaced or forced from their homes, he said.
Other organisations said this was a gross under-estimation and that at least 80,000 had been displaced.
According to South Africa's Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), as many
as 100,000 Africans may have been driven from their houses.
The organisation says it has done a careful count in the Johannesburg area and other organisations
have conducted similar tallies in Cape Town and Durban.
Adele Kirsten, the centre's executive director, said the government had been 'incredibly slow to
'They have certainly failed to grasp the seriousness of the situation,' she told the BBC's World
Aid agencies say large numbers of Zimbabweans have been leaving for Zambia, with others heading
for Mozambique and Botswana....
Many people have left the country altogether, turning their backs on South Africa - a country they
once thought of as home, BBC Africa editor Martin Plaut reports.
Aid agencies have spoken of large numbers of Zimbabweans leaving for Zambia, with others heading
for Mozambique and Botswana.
Mozambique's government says about 20,000 of its own citizens have fled South Africa.
It has set up transit camps near the capital, Maputo, to accommodate the fleeing migrants.
In Cape Town, South Africa, the authorities and charities have begun efforts to feed and shelter
the displaced. At least 10,000 immigrants fled to makeshift camps outside the south-western city alone.
South African President Thabo Mbeki made his comments on Sunday (25 May 2008) in a national radio
and television address.
He said the attacks were the worst acts of inhumanity South Africa had seen since the end of apartheid.
The president has been criticised for his handling of the crisis, including a response which some
have seen as slow. The BBC's Will Ross in Johannesburg says some in South Africa wonder why it took him two weeks to make
this address to the nation.
Our correspondent says there is a great deal of xenophobia in South Africa and foreigners are often
accused of taking away people's jobs and fuelling crime....
The troubles flared with a wave of attacks on foreigners in the township of Alexandra, within sight
of some of Johannesburg's most expensive suburbs.”
And it was highly probable that the violence would erupt again and the number of those displaced
would reach or even exceed a quarter of a million in the following weeks.
It was also very much possible that the number of those killed would go higher since there was
no guarantee that foreigners would not be attacked anymore.
In fact just one day after the government had announced on 26 May 2008 that the violence had been
contained and neutralised, more attacks took place in the Eastern Cape Province, President Mbeki's home province. One involved
the petrol-bombing of a Chinese-owned business establishment.
And according to reports on 27 May 2008 at least 50,000 black African immigrants had been uprooted
and displaced in the Johannesburg area,more than 20,000 in Cape Town and surrounding areas, and at least 20,000 in the eastern
coastal city of Durban.
Those were just preliminary figures, as reported on 27 May 2008, and they were expected to climb.
Reports on the same day said about
26,000 people had returned home to Mozambique, with their government organising convoys of buses and others riding on the
back of trucks.
At least 3,000 Mozambicans were crossing the border every day, going back to their homeland. And
by 31 May 2008, more than 32,000 Mozambicans had returned home. As one returnee, Levis who was clearly shaken, stated: “It's
absolute chaos. It's a massacre, as close to a war as you can get. I've lost a lot but at least still got my soul.”
He was quoted by Eleuterio Fenita in a BBC report, “Mozambicans Head Home for Safety,”
30 May 2008, from Beluluane, one of the two transit camps set up by the government about 30 miles from Mozambique's capital
One of the people at the one of the transit camps was a South African woman who had been forced
to leave South Africa with her Mozambican husband. Another was a Mozambican woman who said she would never forget what they
did to them and did not even think about forgiving them. She said she will never forgive the people who chased her, chanting
the name of a southern Mozambican ethnic group common in South Africa: “Kill the Shangaans, beat the Shangaans!”
And in Zambia, the Red Cross said on May 27th that it was preparing for the arrival of
25,000 Zimbabweans who were fearful of returning to their own country. Malawi was also preparing to evacuate at least 3,000
of its citizens, with more to come in the following days and weeks.
The South African police, quoted by the Associated Press (AP) on Monday,
26 May 2008, also said there were isolated incidents of looting and shacks being set ablaze over the weekend in different
parts of the country. It meant the violence was not over. And as the Sowetan stated in ts report two days later on 28 May 2008, “Limpopo Also Enters the Fray”:
“Xenophobic attacks have now engulfed
Limpopo. The attacks left at least 81 foreign nationals displaced. The attacks were unleashed on unsuspecting foreign nationals on Sunday morning when a group
of people accosted them in Mohlaletsi village in the Sekhukhune area.”
The report from Limpopo Province, two days after the government had announced that the violence
across the country was under control, vindicated the black African immigrants' fear that the xenophobic terror against them
was not over and could erupt at anytime, and anywhere, in the country. They were no longer safe in South Africa.
The attacks on African immigrants in Limpopo Province also assumed another dimension. It was one
of the first reports since the May 2008 violence started showing that the attacks had now spread to the rural areas. African
immigrants were also attacked in two villages in the North West Province in the same month.
Almost all the other attacks had taken place in urban areas and their surroundings. But the attacks
in Limpopo and some in the North West provinces also took place in some villages, showing the immigrants were not safe even
in the rural areas. They had nowhere to hide.
And it took only about two weeks for the violence to spread to eight out of South Africa's nine
provinces since the attacks started in Alexandra, Gauteng Province, on 11 May 2008. Only the Northern Cape Province was “spared,”
if at all.
So, there was no question that foreigners were still in danger. The outburst of xenophobia has
destroyed tens of thousands of lives, and perhaps millions when those who depend on the immigrants in one way or another are
also taken into account.
And despite assurances by the government that the situation was under control and that foreigners
would be protected, untold numbers of black African immigrants did not believe that and decided to leave.
It was a trail of tears in one of the most vicious and most barbaric xenophobic campaigns in the
history of post-colonial Africa.
Whether or not the wounds inflicted on the black African immigrants will ever heal is a matter
for speculation. And how other Africans are going to look at South Africa after this xenophobic campaign is also a matter
But one thing is clear. The people who were attacked were bitter. Their relatives and many of their
fellow countrymen, in their home countries, were also bitter. Some even sought revenge.
Others were glad just to be alive and back in their home countries.
Still, there is no guarantee that even those who were overwhelmed by a sense of joy after returning
to their home countries and wanted to “forget” the nightmare they went through in South Africa are not going to
seek vengeance and retaliate against South Africans living in their countries.
But for them, at least the nightmare – the pain and suffering –
was finally over. As Fred Katerere stated in his report from Mozambique's capital, Maputo, published in the Sowetan, Monday, 26 May 2008:
“Odete Pinho arrived at Maputo
station in tears, with a bundle of her dirty clothes wrapped in a sarong, one of more than 20,000 Mozambicans returning home
to escape violence in South Africa.
'Mama I’m back, but I lost everything,' shouted the emotional 25-year-old as she spotted
her mother waiting in a crowd of anxious people who had come to greet returnees from the train.
'I just want to go home and be with my family. I am lucky to come back alive,' she told AFP.
Some pushed bicycles and prams along the station platform, while others carried groceries including
eggs, bread, cooking oil and other goods that were scarce or over-priced in Mozambique.
While Pinho had her few belongings wrapped up, some like Maria Alzarina stepped off the train with
nothing more than a plastic bag containing a blouse and a jersey.
'I lost everything,' said the 25-year-old, who had been living in a slum area in Germiston east
of Johannesburg, which has been particularly hard-hit in the wave of anti-immigrant violence that has left at least 50 dead.
'They came to my house in Germiston and kicked down the doors before grabbing our property,' she
said, choking back tears.
She wanted revenge on South Africans living in Mozambique.
'They should taste what their brothers did to us,' she said.
Mozambican Deputy Foreign Minister Henrique Banze told AFP that nearly 20,000 people had returned
home to escape the violence in South Africa, where gangs of armed thugs have conducted door-to-door searches for foreigners.
Joao Ribeiro, national director of government’s National Disaster Management agency, puts
the figure at closer to 26,000. The government has hired 19 buses to transport the returnees.
The xenophobic attacks had 'caught us by surprise, but we will be able to manage,' he said.
Mozambicans and Zimbabweans have borne the brunt of the anti-immigrant unrest in South Africa,
where they are accused of taking jobs from locals and committing crime.
With the crisis heading into a third week, even more are expected to flee in the coming days and
three transit centres have been set up around Maputo to process them, says Ribeiro.
Francisco Mabai, the 37-year-old owner of a small grocery store, said he had been living in South
Africa for 17 years before deciding to flee. He had even successfully applied for permanent residency.
'I will assess the situation before I can go back. These people are dangerous. I have seen them
killing people by beating them up or setting them on fire,' Mabai said.
Scratches on his hands testify to a struggle with thugs who tried to loot his shop in Germiston,
Most of the returning migrants returned to happy reunions with families, relieved that their loved
ones had escaped the mayhem unharmed.
But Abilio Cuna, a 32-year-old mechanic, said he was not sure what awaited him at his family home
in Inhambane, 800 kilometres north of Maputo.
Furthermore, after spending a week sheltering at a police station, he had left his South African
wife and children in Johannesburg.
'For the past eight years that I have been living in South Africa, I lost contact with my family.'
'I never phoned them and they also didn’t call. I don’t know who will receive me there,'
said dreadlocked Cuna as he puffed on a cheap cigarette he had bought from a vendor at the station.
'I am only praying that they will not attack my wife and children. I will go back as soon as possible,'
he said as he rushed to get a bus for Inhambane.
Mabai, pushing a bicycle through the crowd, said he could never have imagined becoming an enemy
in his adopted homeland.
'In the past I never imagined the South Africans turning against us,' he said. 'But it has happened
and authorities need to find a solution immediately so that we can go back and carry on with our work.'
Foreigners in South Africa, many of whom have fled economic meltdown in neighbouring Zimbabwe,
are being blamed for sky-high crime rates and depriving locals of jobs.
The problems are seen as a result of policy failures to address critical housing shortages, clandestine
immigration and the poverty-ridden conditions in the slum areas that surround South Africa’s cities.”
After the wave of violence which sent
untold numbers of black African immigrants fleeing for their lives, it became clear that their future was uncertain in a country
where xenophobic attacks against them had been condoned and supported by many of their neighbours and other people across
The attacks also seemed to have official
sanction since the government did nothing to stop them when they first erupted. Even months later, it showed no interest in
helping those who had been displaced by the violence besides providing temporary shelters only for some of them, and without
And many of their former neighbours
as well as others in the communities in which they once lived did not want them to return to those communities. As Jonah Fisher
stated in his report from Johannesburg, South Africa, published on BBC News, Africa, on 15 August 2008, entitled “South
Africa's Migrants Left in The Cold”:
“Life has not been kind
to Gloria Mahango and her three small children.
Four years ago, her husband, a Zimbabwean
activist, was killed. The family escaped to South Africa and settled in a suburb of Johannesburg.
But in May they were forced to flee
More than 60 people were killed as
South Africans turned on the foreigners who had been living among them.
It was Gloria's South African neighbour
who told her she had to go.
'She went and picked up our laundry
and dipped it in muddy water,' Gloria said, sitting outside her white tent.
'She then said: 'I'm attacking you'
to the Congolese woman, 'then the next one will be Gloria and the third one is Sisay. All these people I want you out of here.'
So it was a big fight.'
Fearful of her life, Gloria and her
children have - along with thousands of other foreigners - spent the last two months sheltering in government camps. But they
were never intended to be permanent.
'They have to leave the shelter because
we actually invited them to the shelter to provide for them in their time of need,' Thabo Masebe from Gauteng Provincial Government
"We are convinced that conditions exist
in all the communities within Gauteng for all the displaced people to safely return to their places. We don't expect anyone
to refuse to leave.'
But in the townships which saw the
worst of May's violence, time has proved a slow healer.
n Ramaphosa, to the east of Johannesburg,
a Mozambican man was doused in petrol, set alight and burnt to death.
But locals such as Eva
Sephiwe see the foreigners as the aggressors and not the victims.
'I cannot say they will be killed,'
she told me, 'but the community does not want to accept them and the community says we won't allow them to come back.'
We did manage to find some foreigners
left in Ramaphosa.
Huddled around the local police station
was a small group of bedraggled Mozambicans. Sleeping on ragged mattresses under trees, they said they were scared to venture
While we were speaking to the Mozambicans,
a South African woman who worked next door to the police station called me over.
She said the real roots of the xenophobic
attacks had not been addressed. She said it was the government's fault for not addressing the lack of opportunities for the
country's poorest people.
'This is just not human,' she told
me. 'Sensible people would go home. I know it's bad on the other side, but sensible people would go home if you're not wanted
in a society.'
As we were in Ramaphosa,
Gloria, the Zimbabwean woman, called us on the phone.
We returned to find her weeping outside
the camp surrounded by her children and their few belongings. Her tent had been taken down and she had been evicted early.
Unable to return to Zimbabwe and too
scared to go back to her home in Johannesburg, she was now stranded by the side of a busy road.
'They say that they were working on
a plan and holding meetings to help us and that hasn't happened,' she said. 'They haven't reintegrated us or helped us all
they've done is put me here on the street with my children. The government has really treated me very badly here in South
That night Gloria slept in the open
with her children alongside her.
When the other shelters are closed
in Gauteng, more than 2,000 foreigners will be forced to choose whether to risk returning to their homes - or to wait like
Gloria, hoping and praying that their wretched luck is about to change.”
Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has tried to portray itself as a beacon of hope on the
continent ravaged by civil wars and strife and other forms of conflict.
And probably the majority of South Africans feel that their country is “different from the
rest” in many fundamental respects. “We are Africans, but we are different!” That has been their mantra.
But the wave of xenophobic violence which swept across the country may have exposed the “true
nature” of South Africa. It showed, deep down inside, that South Africa is, after all, just another African country
like the rest.
What a revelation!
South Africans had always prided themselves of being “civilised”; theirs probably being
the only “civilised” country on the “Dark Continent.”
So what happened?
It was a false sense of pride. As one of the country's leading newspapers,
The Times, after swallowing its pride, bluntly stated
on 27 May 2008 in a leading commentary on the violence, “Welcome to savage Africa’s newest state.”
Yet xenophobia is not peculiar to South Africa.
In 1969 and 1970, more than 500,000 Nigerians were expelled from Ghana when the country was under
the leadership of Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia who served as prime minister from 1969 – 1972.
Besides the half a million of Nigerian citizens who were deported from Ghana, Africans from other
African countries were also kicked out of the country.
Almost all of those who were expelled were Africans, mostly from Nigeria.
Many Ghanaians even attacked these foreigners, fellow Africans, with machetes and other weapons
in order to drive them out of the country. And many of them were killed. The exact number of those who were killed will never
be known but it was said to be in the thousands.
Then it was Nigeria's turn to do Ghanaians and other Africans a favour.
In 1983, Nigeria expelled more than 700,000 Ghanaians from the country. Many of them were also
killed during the expulsion. Other Africans were also expelled and the number of those expelled from Nigeria exceeded one
Again, in May 1985, Nigeria expelled more foreigners, mostly African, including more than 300,000
Ghanaians. Many of them died on the way back to their home countries and others died before leaving, including those who were
It was a major blow to both Ghana and Nigeria to absorb all those people at once when they were
forced to return to their home countries.
Ghanaians who were kicked out of Nigeria faced another major problem. To help finance their repatriation
and resettlement, Ghana's government forced the returning Ghanaians to pay import taxes on their goods or have them confiscated
Countless ended up destitute after their belongings were seized and sold by the Ghanaian government.
All the years they had spent in Nigeria went down the drain overnight.
Tens of thousands of Nigerians had lived in Ghana for decades. Also tens of thousands of Ghanaians
had lived in Nigeria for decades. Their children and even grandchildren were born in those countries, the only place they
knew as home.
They were all uprooted without the slightest concern for their well-being.
Also, what was once hailed as one of the most peaceful countries in Africa, the Ivory Coast, has
been fractured along ethno-regional and religious lines, making a mockery of the concept of national unity.
Members of northern tribes who are mostly Muslim accuse southerners, who are mostly Christian,
And there is plenty of evidence to show that members of southern tribes, especially the Baoule,
have dominated the country since independence in 1960.
Resentment by northerners has to led to virtual partition of the country, with the northern half
being controlled by northerners and the south by southern tribes. And religion continues to play a major role in this conflict,
fuelling ethno-regional differences.
Another peaceful country exploded in December 2007 after the Kikuyu-dominated government of President
Mwai Kibaki rigged elections to give him another five-year term in office.
The violence that rocked the nation exposed ethnic fault lines which had always existed but which
national leaders pretended did not exist.
More than 1,500 people were killed in only a few days in different parts of the country in politically
motivated violence which was unleashed along ethnic lines. And hundreds of thousands, at least 600,000, were uprooted from
their homes and left homeless, becoming refugees in their own country which many Kenyans did not even recognise or acknowledge
as a legitimate or functional political entity. To them, their tribes and ethnic identities come first.
There is no such thing as Kenyan nationalism transcending tribalism. And
there is none, for practical purposes and in the
lives of many Kenyans, because of the virulence of tribalism in Kenya. Many Kenyans even openly preach hate against members
of other tribes.
And if nothing is done to neutralise it, it could become a theology as it
did among the Hutu in Rwanda who unleashed a wave of violence and terror against the Tutsi on an unprecedented scale leading
to genocide which claimed about one million lives, mostly Tutsi, in less than 100 days in 1994. As Rose Mwalongo stated in
her report, “Spreading 'the word of hate' in Kenya,” in The Guardian, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 26 January 2008:
“Inflammatory statements and songs
broadcast on vernacular radio stations and at party rallies, text messages, emails, posters and leaflets have all contributed
to post-electoral violence in Kenya, according to analysts.
Hundreds of homes have been burnt, more than 600 people killed and 250,000 displaced.
While the mainstream media, both English and Swahili, have been praised for their even-handedness,
vernacular radio broadcasts have been of particular concern, given the role of Kigali`s Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines
in inciting people to slaughter their neighbours in the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
'There`s been a lot of hate speech, sometimes thinly veiled. The vernacular radio stations have
perfected the art,' Caesar Handa, chief executive of Strategic Research, told IRIN.
His company was contracted by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to monitor the media coverage
given to the main political parties in Kenya in the run-up to the 27 December presidential and parliamentary elections.
Among the FM stations that Handa singled out for criticism were the Kalenjin-language station Kass,
the Kikuyu stations Iroono and Kameme and the Luo station, Lake Victoria.
'The call-in shows are the most notorious,' said Handa. 'The announcers don't really have the ability
to check what the callers are going to say.'
Handa heard Kalenjin callers on Kass FM making negative comments about other ethnic groups, who
they call 'settlers,' in their traditional homeland, Rift Valley Province.
'You hear cases of 'Let's reclaim our land. Let's reclaim our birthright.' Let's claim our land
means you want to evict people (other ethnic communities) from the place,' said Handa.
One difficulty in monitoring such stations is that the language used is often quite subtle and
On Kass FM, there were references to the need for 'people of the milk' to 'cut grass' and complaints
that the mongoose has come and 'stolen our chicken,' according to Kamanda Mucheke, senior human rights officer with the state-funded
Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), which monitored hate speech in the countdown to the elections.
The Kalenjin call themselves people of the milk because they are pastoralists by tradition and
the mongoose is a reference to Kikuyus who have bought land in Rift Valley, Mucheke said.
On another occasion, a caller emphasised the need to 'get rid of weeds,' which could be interpreted
as a reference to non-Kalenjin ethnic groups.
Out-of-tune vernacular music has also been used to raise ethnic tensions.
The two Kikuyu stations, Kameme and Inooro, played songs 'talking very badly about beasts from
the west,' a veiled reference to opposition leader Raila Odinga and his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) colleagues, who come
from western Kenya, said Handa.
Radio Lake Victoria played a Luo-language song by DO Misiani, which referred to “the leadership
KNCHR singled out a Kikuyu song by Miuga Njoroge, broadcast on Inooro FM, as worrying. 'I hear
it was sponsored by the (governing)Party of National Unity,' said Mucheke.
'The gist of it is Raila (Odinga) is a murderer. He is power hungry. He doesn't care about other
tribes. He only cares about his tribe, the Luo community. It says that Luos are lazy. They don`t work. They are hooligans.
That when they rent houses, they don't pay rent.'
By allowing such sentiments to be voiced on the air, observers say, they earn a degree of legitimacy
that can be used to justify attacks on other ethnic groups.
'Hate speech is contributing in a big way to get people to take action as a result of the anger
they have been feeling individually. You might have an individual feeling but when entire communities are rallied to a cause,
people find justification and find the community would support them, (for example) if they burned a house belonging to a Kikuyu.
It`s not something the community is going to frown upon,' said Handa.
However, Mucheke said KNCHR had witnessed 'a remarkable reduction' in incidents of hate speech
by the media in 2007 compared with 2005, when there was a referendum on a new constitution.
That period marked a dramatic escalation in polarisation of the Kenyan population into two ethnic
voting blocks, with most Kikuyu, Embu and Meru people supporting the government and voting for the new draft constitution,
while other communities, particularly Luo, Kalenjin and Luhyas, backed the opposition in campaigning against it.
Analysts attributed the reduction in hate speech to the fact that radio stations are now being
Three days before the November 2005 referendum, Kass FM was taken off air by the government, which
alleged it was inciting listeners to violence.
The station was only allowed to resume operations after submitting recordings of its transmissions
to the government.
KNCHR's major concern in the lead-up to the 2007 elections was hate speech by politicians.
In its October report, Still Behaving Badly, KNCHR cited comments by former minister of information
Mutahi Kagwe at a rally in his Mukurweini constituency on 13 October.
'We are told that people will not be paying rent [if ODM win the election]. Even your milk which
is now selling at 17 shillings will be declared free. Since independence we have never had such a dangerous man [as opposition
leader Raila Odinga] who wants to destroy our government,' Kagwe said.
In another speech, Kagwe compared Odinga to Idi Amin and Hitler, warning his audience that Odinga
will start 'suppressing us' like those dictators if he wins.
A more anonymous way of spreading hate
has been through emails and text messages.
One text sent before three days of demonstrations, called by the opposition ODM from 16 January,
read in part:
'We say no more innocent Kikuyu blood will be shed. We will slaughter them right here in the capital
city. For justice, compile a list of all Luos and Kaleos [slang for the Kalenjin ethnic group] you know at work, your estate,
anywhere in Nairobi, plus where and how their children go to school. We will give you number to text this info.'
The majority of Kikuyus supported Kibaki, while Luos and Kalenjins overwhelmingly voted for ODM.
Many Kenyans, used to making derogatory statements about other ethnic groups, do not realise the
implications of what they are doing, according to Linda Ochiel, principal human rights officer at KNCHR.
'People treat it as a big joke. They don`t know such stereotypes eventually get fixated in people`s
minds when they begin to kill people. It`s one of the triggers of violence in this country. When we begin to dehumanise other
Kenyans and depict them as animals, it`s easy to take a machete and hack them to death,' she told IRIN.
Another serious issue is the circulation of leaflets warning certain ethnic communities to leave
According to one report, leaflets were distributed in and around Bungoma town on 10 January urging
Kikuyu, Meru and Embu people to leave the area immediately.
It read in part: 'Notice to all landlords. Please take note that no Mount Kenya Mafia is your tenant
lest you face the consequences. Avail quit notices to them immediately with no hesitation. Comply immediately!'
The Mount Kenya Mafia is a name commonly given to the influential Kikuyu, Meru and Embu politicians
who are closest to President Mwai Kibaki. Bungoma is in pro-opposition Western Province.
On 21 January, the Daily Nation newspaper reported that the hand of a man who had been murdered by a gang was found on the
Ukunda-Lunga Lunda road near the coastal city of Mombasa 'with a chilling message attached ... directing members of two communities
to vacate the region.'
Analysts complained of a lack of political will to solve the problem.
After the 2005 referendum, KNCHR tried to sue members of parliament who had used hate speech but
the Attorney General terminated the case.
In 2007, the rights group tried to introduce legislation into Parliament incriminating hate speech.
It was rejected by MPs who said it would be used to curtail their freedom of expression.
This has created a culture of impunity.
'When action is not taken against people who openly make statements which are inflammatory, people
keep doing it because they know they will get away with it,' said Ochiel.
'We want people prosecuted. We would like them to be held accountable. They are responsible for
the people who have died,' she said.
The government had issued a nationwide text message on 3 January advising 'that the sending of
hate messages inciting violence is an offence that could result in prosecution.'”
Kenya in no exception in this regard in terms of ethnic hatred. It is a continental phenomenon.
But while it is indeed true that there is hate within, as exemplified by Kenyans turning against
each other and as the preceding report shows, there is also hate beyond territorial borders, with some people in different
African countries being hostile towards other people from other countries on the continent....
Hostility Towards Black African Immigrants in South Africa:
The New Apartheid?
MOST of the material in this appendix focuses on the wave of terror against black African immigrants
which engulfed South Africa in May 2008.
It was the worst violence against these immigrants since the end of apartheid. And they have
always been the primary target of xenophobic attacks by black South Africans.
I have also included some material focusing on some xenophobic attacks which took place before
May 2008 in order to show that hostility towards black African immigrants in South Africa is nothing new.
And there's no guarantee it's going to stop, considering the fact that there is hostility even
among the South Africans themselves, towards each other, accentuated along ethnic and racial lines in this rainbow nation.
It is tragic that Afro-pessimists seem to have been vindicated in their belief that South Africa
has become just another African country; a cauldron of ethnic strife and hatred, xenophobic hysteria and everything else including
bad leadership that is typical of “just another African country.”
Sometimes, the stereotypical image of Africa is a true reflection of Africa itself. And that
is a tragedy for us as Africans.
Face Anti-immigrant Attacks
Reuters AlertNet, 1
- IX - 2006
By Gordon Bell
CAPE TOWN, Sept 1 (Reuters). A group of Somali children laugh and play on a secluded field outside Cape Town, oblivious to the hatred and
violence that have driven their parents from their homes and businesses.
said on Friday a South African mob attacked Somali refugees this week in Masiphumelele, a tiny black township near the quiet
seaside town of Kommetjie, about 40 km (25 miles) south of the country's tourist hub, looting and torching shops and forcing
scores into hiding.
Analysts say widespread
poverty and a large African immigrant population has bred jealously, making Africa's biggest economy rife for xenophobia.
Tens of thousands of illegal
immigrants, jostling for limited jobs and adding to already high crime rates, have sparked distrust and hatred of legitimate
Attacks against Somalis
have occurred across South Africa over the past six months and in the Cape Town region. 27 citizens of the war-ravaged Horn
of Africa nation have been murdered in the last month alone, according to police figures....
Mwakikagile, African Immigrants in South Africa