‘Stop fanning the flames’

2015-04-18 00:00

STOP circulating false information about xenophobia on social media.

This was the plea yesterday from African refugees as a wave of xenophobia and criminal ­attacks on foreigners churns through the province.

Moses Kilozo, a spokesperson for African refugees, said the sensational and false reports ­circulating on social media were fuelling the flames of xenophobia, both locally and outside the borders of the country.

Kilozo, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, said the messages were creating panic.

“Don’t pass these messages on. We are getting messages or calls from our mothers back home, saying they can’t sleep and are worrying about us with all they see and hear on social media and TV. It leads to the painful memories of the past we went through in our own countries, which are stuck in our minds. We have been living in a terrible situation since we were born. Where is the Ubuntu?”

Kilozo said it had become difficult for foreigners to travel around locally. “People stare at you in the shops.”

He said in Greytown, Congolese refugees had to seek shelter in community and church halls after a message was circulated on social media that a meeting would be held at the taxi rank on April 28 to discuss chasing foreigners away.

“The police confirmed it was a rumour, but asked them to be careful anyway. The situation is tense. Anything can happen.”

Kilozo, now living in Howick, also appealed to government and civil organisations to come together to educate people about foreigners and promote social cohesion. “We need to educate local people about the difference between refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers. Most don’t know the difference.”

Kilozo believes that meaningful communication could help remedy the situation. “I think we can convince the local people.”

He said the situation in Howick and KZN in the last week had been “out of control”.

“Many people are using the name of xenophobia to steal from shops. They are taking everything and terrorising people. Pietermaritzburg was a disaster, but it’s okay now. Foreigners are too scared to open their shops because they don’t feel secure.

“We’re very happy with the response of the police, but we need social cohesion to start happening. We want the police, government and churches to get involved.”

He warned of repercussions for the country if the xenophobia did not end. “There are South Africans working in other countries. These countries will close the diplomatic relationship they have with SA. These incidents are chasing the money away now. Investors will be too scared to open businesses here.”

He said in their home countries, they had chased white people away and this had led to a decline in the economic activity in those countries, and tourism activities had stopped.

Kilozo added that locals had much to learn from their foreign counterparts. “South Africans are very dependent on their government. In other countries, we ask what we can do for our government. Everyone contributes towards the country. They open small businesses and employ people.”

He said once the refugees had peace in their own countries, they would return home. “Africa must unite to make a better place for all.”

MOSES Kilozo, who has lived in South Africa for 13 years, said he has written a book called Journey towards healing about what had happened in the DRC.

He came to South Africa at the age of 25, fleeing the conflict in the DRC because he was being forced to become a soldier. “I didn’t want to kill innocent people. It was a terrible situation. There was civil war between tribes.”

He fled from the DRC to Burundi, but had to flee from there too. “We lost everything. Those memories will always be in my mind. Now I don’t want to see people fighting.”

Kilozo, who works as a hair stylist and photographer, and does much community work educating South Africans about foreigners, and foreigners on their rights and obligations when living here, said he feels anchored here.

“The foreign community have married local people and integrated into society. We are contributing towards the country.”

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