xenophobia: a year on

Sibongile Mashaba

Sibongile Mashaba

It is exactly a year since foreigners were subjected to abuse and xenophobic violence that they will never forget.

"They must leave because they steal our jobs." "They take our women and commit crime." "We do not want them in our country."

These revealing taunts and photographs of Ernesto Alfaberto Nhamuave, aflame and arms flailing in despair, brought the horror of the attacks home to South Africa and the world.

Many of those who escaped unharmed were so scarred by the experience they cannot erase the images from their minds.

Research done during and after the attacks determined that the lack of service delivery, especially housing, sparked the attacks by frustrated locals.

"Every time there are protests in the communities, violence is used. It has become a disease," said a report by the Human Sciences Research Council.

A year after the xenophobic attacks, Sowetan took to the streets to ask people what lessons they had learnt and if they had experienced any change in attitudes.

Last year this time, Alexandra, north of Johannesburg, and Ramaphosa informal settlement near Reiger Park in Ekurhuleni were centres of hatred. Today the local people seem to have accepted the foreigners.

But a sense of unease still hangs over the communities. People are not sure if the peace will last.

"Many foreigners left the area during the attacks. Crime is still very high. It's clear foreigners were not responsible," said Zanele Tafane of Ramaphosa.

Clement Makofane said: "Most of the foreigners are back. Everything seems to be back to normal now. It will take some time for us to forget. Foreigners were not responsible for all the crime because it is still rife. It was all a lie."

Thabo Chiloane summed up the sentiments of his neighbours: "I do not wish for the attacks to happen again. Most of the foreigners who returned to their homes after the attacks seem accepted."

Isaac Langa, 25, from Maputo said: "Things are better now. We are not being ill-treated - but one can never be certain whether we will be attacked again."

Businessman Alberto Chivetlhe, 54, recalled the anger and threats.

"When the attacks spread to our area, they broke into my house and took everything I had. "They broke into my shop and took the groceries I sold to make a living. I am now being intimidated by unruly youngsters. One of them will come and buy airtime and then a few hours later return with his friends and claim the voucher cannot be loaded," he said.

Chivetlhe returned to the area, rebuilt his life and reopened his shop.

"I have no fear," Chivetlhe added.

Zimbabwean Wellington Mavima, 33, has a business in Alexandra and believes another round of xenophobic violence is unlikely.

"We were welcomed back into our homes. There is better understanding of what each of us wants. My business is doing great," he said.

He was sympathetic to the dire circumstances of thousands of his countrymen who have taken shelter in the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg.

"Some of them want the government to give them a place to stay. That will not happen. They must make things happen for themselves," Mavima said.