Xenophobia: Fear in the eyes of the children

2015-04-19 15:00

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Save the Children SA has conducted ongoing research into the effects of xenophobic violence on foreign children. With a specific focus on rural areas in Mpumalanga and Limpopo, Save the Children spoke to children in six towns about their experiences. Despite being protected by local communities in many instances, the children are often targeted by police because they do not have South African documents.

Asanda Magaqa of Save the Children spoke to City Press and said the focus of the study was to establish facts “such as their reasons for migrating, whether or not they are still in contact with their families, and how they feel in their new environment”.

Lonis Manda

Lonis Mandla

Five-year-old Lonis Manda, who was queueing with dozens of other Malawians yesterday afternoon hoping to catch a bus back to her home country, knows exactly why she is going back to Malawi.

She stood awkwardly in the long queue. The xenophobic attacks in KwaZulu-Natal have driven her family out of their home and into the Isipingo refugee camp.

“I’m from Malawi. I’m going back home. I miss my friends,” she said shyly.

Her mother, Edis Manda, intervened and said this had been hard for everyone. The last time little Lonis saw her friends, they cried because news had spread that she had to leave.

“Since we have been here [the refugee camp], she asks when she will see her friends and when she will go back to her bed. I have explained it to her, but at times she still asks. We have to go now,” said Manda.

Noela Mukeyo and Nassor

Noela Mukeyo and Nassor

Noela Mukeyo (11) and her brother Nassor (10) have lived in South Africa all their lives, but now they don’t know what their next destination will be.

“I’m here [in Isipingo refugee camp] because the Zulus don’t want us. They hit us and told us to go back home, but this is my home. I am South African and Congolese. On Sunday, we had to run to the police station to hide there for our safety,” said Noela.

“I miss school a lot. The last time I went, my friends were talking about this thing, but I didn’t want to believe them. I want to tell Zulus who are doing this that I have a sick brother who needs to see a doctor every month. Every day he is not getting the right food for his sickness. My brother was born with an illness and has been sick ever since. We are living here now and he is not going to get better,”

Her family fled the war in Congo, but now the xenophobic attacks are forcing them to flee once more.

Grace Mukonkole and Mwika Kunda

Grace Mukonkole and Mwika Kunda

Grace Mukonkole is only 11, but has already seen too much with her young eyes.

“We were playing outside and mama ran to get us. We heard shouting and screaming and ran into the house and locked the doors. I looked outside and saw people hitting a woman with stones and shouting ‘go home’. I looked and looked and I cried,” said Grace as she shredded a piece of grass at the Isipingo refugee camp. Her mother, Mwika Kunda, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, said since witnessing the woman’s murder by a xenophobic mob, her daughter has had sleepless nights and wakes up in a cold sweat, screaming.

“I know why we can’t go home, but I miss home. It’s not nice living here. I want to ask South Africans to stop killing people. You are causing people too much pain,” she said.

Kunda is worried because her once-talkative child has become withdrawn and no longer wants to play with other children.

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