Wed Oct 26 09:50:27 SAST 2016

' Victimised' Somalis say SA is home

By unknown | Jan 29, 2010 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

THREE Somali men stand around a computer screen in a crammed Internet shop in the Cape Town suburb of Bellville, tapping their feet to a music video.

THREE Somali men stand around a computer screen in a crammed Internet shop in the Cape Town suburb of Bellville, tapping their feet to a music video.

The screen shows a packed stadium with a crowd of people waving their hands and dancing in a frenzy as Somali artist K'naan sings a catchy chorus about growing stronger and finding freedom.

The name of the song is Waving Flag and it's a tune that South Africans are sure to get to know well in the coming months. The song has been named the official anthem of the Soccer World Cup.

For the men watching it, however, the song has a special significance.

K'naan was 11 years old when gunmen opened fire on him and three of his friends while they were playing on a street in Mogadishu. He survived the attack, but all his friends were killed.

The chorus goes: "When I get older ... I will be stronger... They'll call me freedom ... Just like a waving flag...". It's about K'naan's experience after the attack.

One of the men watching the video is Mohammed Osman, a coordinator of the Somali Association of South Africa, which has its offices annexed to the computer store.

Osman says many Somalis have had similar experiences to K'naan, which is why they can relate to the lyrics.

"It is impossible for most people to live a normal life in Somalia. When I was growing up, the country was being run by warlords. That is why the lyrics of a song like this have special meaning for us."

Osman decided to leave Somalia in 2003, while he was living with his mother and father in the town of Kismayu. "I had relatives living in a beautiful, peaceful city called Cape Town and I decided to go there."

In 2003 Osman, who was then 22, said goodbye to his family and took a bus to Kenya. "We were 100km from the border when the bus stopped and the driver told us we had to walk the rest of the way," he recalls.

"The passengers got out and we spent the next days walking across the border by foot."

In Kenya, Osman took a bus to Nairobi and from there travelled to Tanzania where he took a boat down the coast to Mozambique.

Osman made it to the shore and joined a group of about 30 Somalis who trekked into Mozambique. They had barely crossed the border when they were arrested by Mozambican soldiers and thrown into prison.

Osman and the Somalis were held for 35 days without trial. They were fed one meal a day. After 30 days, the group decided to go on a hunger strike to demand a trial.

The hunger strike lasted five days before the Mozambicans released them and deported them to Tanzania. The Tanzanians then deported the group to Kenya.

Osman stayed in Kenya for two months before he started his journey again. This time he made it all the way to Cape Town.

"It was (a) difficult journey. But the Somali women have a much worse time. They are raped and attacked the whole way to South Africa. It is terrible what they have to endure," he says.

Osman worked in a small grocery store in the township of Masiphumelele, near Cape Town, but it wasn't long before the problems started.

Businessmen in the Cape townships were accusing Somalis of undercutting and stealing business. Gangs formed and attacked and destroyed the stores of traders like Osman.

One of the men in the Internet Shop, Ali Sandhere Mohamed, 20, used to run a small grocery store in the township of Philippi.

"One day a man walked in and asked for cigarettes. I took the money and bent down to get change. When I looked, the man had a pistol. He put it into my mouth and pulled the trigger."

The bullet went through Mohamed's chin and into the collarbone area where it hit a tendon. His right arm has been paralysed.

Osman moved to Bellville near the Somali mosque on Durban Road, known widely by Somalis as Mogadishu Avenue. "I wanted to stay away from the townships," he says.

It was there that he joined the Somali Association of South Africa, an organisation that aims to represent and protect Somalis living in South Africa.

The association, for which Osman works, tries with the help of organisations like the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the University of Cape Town's Law Clinic, to provide assistance to Somalis living in South Africa.

The Khayelitsha Somali Retailers was set up after the xenophobic attacks in 2008.

The efforts have paid off.

Osman says although they are often victimised by South Africans, Somalis still think of themselves as proud South Africans.

"We are proud to be part of this country."

He points to Somali men on Durban Road wearing Springbok rugby jerseys and Bafana Bafana soccer shirts.

"We can't wait for the World Cup. Somalis have never been able to see great soccer, live. This is our chance. And we have K'naan who is performing the official song." - Sapa


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