‘I am African too’

2010-07-17 20:58

Makause is an informal settlement on the outskirts of Germiston on the East Rand.Situated on a sprawling plain, it is easy to see the many dwellings that thousands of people call home.

A brick house is an anomaly in this pseudo-village of narrow labyrinths.

A structure constructed with planks, plastics and odd debris is enough to pass off as a house.

Numerous adults line the corners and stare at passers-by in futile curiosity, while children play in the dirt. The residents do not have adequate water supply, electricity or sanitation.

The area is the perfect cocktail of hopelessness.

It is to this place that xenophobic violence spread in the violent days of May 2008.

Some foreigners living in Makause were beaten and killed. Others had their shacks burnt down and their businesses seized or looted.

But, even after rumours that foreigners would be attacked after the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa, there is relative calm here.Some foreigners left Makause in the time leading up to the end of the World Cup.

But others stayed, while some are returning.One of them is Ali Ahmed Omar, who owns the Walala Wasala Supermarket in Makause.

Acting out of fear, Omar emptied out his shop and closed it down on Monday.

However, he returned to reopen it on Thursday, at the request of Makause customers.

Omar’s brother, Qays Ibraahim Abdullé, explains: “They told him to come back. South Africans like saying that we steal their jobs and their women but it is not true. We Somalis always work in our own shops and we don’t marry South African women.

“But people from other countries do; they work at South African factories and marry South African women.”

Abdullé has a shop in Soweto. He lives in Johannesburg.

“My brother hasn’t opened his shop in three days because he is scared,” he says.

“I get scared mostly when they come into my shop and say to me, ‘Makula, hamba’ (Indian, go away).”

Abdullé says South Africans don’t understand that Somalis are African too.

“There are 54 African countries but we are all one.

“They look at me and say I am Indian because my hair is soft. I understand that people around here look alike. They have the same nose, same hair, but why go as far as to call me Indian? We’re from the same continent.

“Even in the World Cup, we supported Ghana,” he says.

Abdullé’s family in Somalia heard of the 2008 attacks and urged him to return home if things got worse.

“But how can I go back to a country with no government?” he asks.

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