Xenophobic attacks: ‘I go to Malawi with a heavy heart’

JOHANNESBURG. – When Malawian community leader Wrightwell Saka came to South Africa three years ago, he had high hopes and aspirations.

“This country is like something else for the rest of Africa. Many of us came here to find some peace and happiness. We wanted to provide for our families back home.”

But this is the opposite of what he and his other countrymen faced in the Burnwood informal settlement in Sydenham, Durban, last week.

From Monday, March 25, a barrage of attacks on Malawians left 249 displaced, living at a transit camp adjacent to the Sherwood Community Hall. This after an alleged rogue act of criminality by one Malawian against one South African.

While the nature of the crime is being kept confidential by authorities to avoid further violence, it has fundamentally changed the lives of the foreign nationals forever.

Following the rogue act, violence erupted in the community, with Malawians singled out and ousted from their homes. Locals lashed out at many of their innocent African neighbours saying they were responsible for job losses and criminality in the area.

“People’s belongings were taken. They were pushed out of their houses. Some were beaten. Blankets, mattresses and money was stolen from us,” Saka told News24 on Tuesday.

While many have returned to Burnwood following interventions by authorities, others have chosen to go back to Malawi.

“We do not want to go. Burnwood was a peaceful place. It was new to us to experience this. We had seen it on TV and pictures, but this was an experience, a reality. Most of us are afraid and scared of going back. I go to Malawi with a heavy heart,” said Saka.

To Saka, South Africans and Malawians have the same problems in life. He said that both countries had issues relating to job scarcity.

“We also don’t have jobs and, if we have jobs, the pay is low. I think, instead of fighting a fellow black man, we were supposed to come together, discuss problems, look forward on how we can solve it, instead of fighting. Africa is one. These borders were demarcated by people we don’t know.”

eThekwini senior disaster management coordinator Malcolm Canham said there were no incidents of violence at the transit camps.

Following the incident, there were interventions on the ground to bring stability.

“This came from the mayor’s office and also the Malawian community and embassy. Once the situation was stablised, locals welcomed back Malawian nationals to the Burnwood area. People have already gone back. The reintegration was successful.”

He said those who chose to go back to Malawi were being assisted by the International Organisation for Migration, the SA immigration department and the Malawian government.

Canham said 105 people had indicated that they wanted to go back, but only 85 had presented themselves to leave.

“They will be moved in batches back to their country.”

He said the site where they had temporarily lived would be shut down from Tuesday (yesterday).

“Those repatriated have asked to go to ground with relatives and friends. If all works well, we could have the first batch leaving by Wednesday.”

Leaving the transit camp, Saka said he felt “very bad”.

“We had taken SA as our home. SA is not a country. It is in Africa. We are in our homeland. Our SA counterparts are our siblings, we should not fight. We feel bad our fellow people are doing this to us.”

Meanwhile, the government has warned South Africans not to be “duped to believe everything they read or see on social media that is purported to be about attacks on foreign nationals”.

Acting Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) Director General Phumla Williams said fake images and videos on social media were aimed at “ruining brand South Africa”.

Williams’ comments follow recent attacks on foreign nationals in parts of Durban and in Limpopo.

On Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa condemned violence against foreign nationals and called on law enforcement agencies to act against those who commit xenophobic crimes.

At the same time, Cabinet ministers Lindiwe Sisulu and Bheki Cele led an engagement with heads of diplomatic missions to work out how to better integrate communities in South Africa.

News24 reported last week that local residents had raided the homes of some foreign nationals, forcing them to seek refuge at nearby police stations and mosques.

Williams said that the justice crime prevention and security cluster had been “working around the clock to address the issue of attacks against foreign nationals”.

She said there was a fresh wave of misinformation being spread on social media sites.

“Government would like to caution that the spread of misinformation, fake pictures and videos on social media, as well as fake websites, may be fuelling tensions in our communities between South Africans and foreign nationals.

“Certain images and videos that appear on social media are old and unrelated to any of the reported incidents of alleged attacks on foreign nationals over the past few days,” William said.

She said the recent spate of the fake online stories which were fuelling tensions between South Africans and foreign nationals called for greater efforts to raise awareness in society about fake news and fake social media posts.

“Fake news stories are a slanderous attempt against the brand of South Africa, with no interest in respecting the constitution of South Africa.

“We urge South Africa citizens to be vigilant and not spread fake information and images that may give an implication to be attacks on foreign nationals,” added Williams. – News24

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