Thu Oct 27 16:56:53 SAST 2016

Uncertain calm reigns in Alex

By unknown | Aug 06, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Namhla Tshisela

Namhla Tshisela

"I have to warn you that I can't guarantee your safety," cautioned a police officer as we prepared to go into Alexandra two months after violent attacks on foreigners.

It was in this township north of Johannesburg where scores of foreign nationals were driven out of their homes on May 11 in a vicious campaign that spread to other areas of the Witwatersrand and eventually to KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.

More than 60 people were killed and thousands displaced. Those who remained in the country found shelter at police stations and later in tent shelters erected by the government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The hustle-and-bustle that typifies Alexandra has returned, with the taxi rank at the entrance as busy as before the May 11 explosion. The kaleidoscope of street hawkers and pedestrians adorns the skyline.

Between 2nd and 8th avenues, hostels, flats and shacks stand cheek to jowl.

When asked if there had been any attacks following the turbulent period, the police officer said: "It has been absolutely quiet. It's peaceful."

Days after the government announced that it would dismantle the shelters next Friday, residents remained ambivalent about the return of the immigrants.

Locals were guarded as they said they would welcome the foreigners back.

"What happened to them was wrong. There haven't been any attacks and some of the foreigners have come back. Things are the same as before," said Themba Hlatshwayo of 3rd Avenue.

An elderly woman, who would only identify herself as Mapula, was undecided about welcoming back foreign nationals.

"We lived with them before. They can come back. Fewer people have complained about their cellphones and handbags being snatched this winter. I don't know if it's because the foreigners weren't here," said Mapula.

But, returning to where he was regarded as an enemy was an uneasy ride for Sam Massinga. He does not feel safe in a place he has considered home for 14 years.

A Mozambican national, Massinga has been attacked twice since he returned to Alexandra.

"I had no choice but to come back three weeks ago. I have to make a living at my brother's salon. Otherwise I would have died of hunger," he said.

Initially, he returned to the township for a week after he was driven out of his home in May.

"They attacked me again and looted the salon. I fled to 14th Avenue where it was calmer."

It has been three weeks since Massinga and his brother returned to 3rd Avenue.


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