Meet the angels who opened their hearts and home to 143 lost strangers

2015-07-08 06:44
(Amanda Khoza, News24)

(Amanda Khoza, News24)

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WATCH: KZN family homes 143 xenophobia refugees on their farm

2015-07-08 11:14

A KwaZulu-Natal family has opened its 20-hectare farm to 143 foreign nationals, including children, who were displaced during the recent xenophobic attacks. Watch.WATCH

Durban – A KwaZulu-Natal family has opened its 20-hectare farm to 143 foreign nationals, including children, who were displaced during the recent xenophobic attacks.

Andrew and Rae Wartnaby, both 47, from Hope Farm in Killarney Valley in Cato Ridge, said they were heartbroken when they heard that the eThekwini municipality was closing the single remaining camp for displaced foreigners in Chatsworth last week.

The couple’s hearts sank further when they heard that foreigners had been arrested and separated from their children on Friday after illegally occupying the camp.  

“On Friday we received a message from a friend informing us that they had arrested all the people and separated them from their families, so we went to Chatsworth police station to find out how we could help," Andrew said.

“Welfare was there. They separated the children and they put everyone in jail and the children were taken away to a children’s home.”

The couple spent the weekend speaking to lawyers and offering help.

“The lawyers said if these people have somewhere to go, then they will be able to sort out the charges and get the families reunited. So we said that we have space, we can do it,” he said.

Displaced foreign nationals gather around the fire place to keep warm in their new home in Cato Ridge. (Amanda Khoza, News24)

'We have had so much help'

The couple spoke to the lawyers and prosecutors and a decision was taken not to prosecute the foreign nationals.

“The next thing we heard was that they are releasing them and bringing the children back. We then suddenly realised that we didn’t know how we were going to get them to here and where all these people were going to sleep, but we have had so much help,” said Andrew.  

Most of the families are from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.

“We just have a heart for children. We want children to have families, be fed and looked after. At the beginning of the attacks I wanted to go to Durban and help, but God said to me that I should not get involved now. He said we must wait and he would need us in the end,” said Rae.  

When asked how the family was coping she said: “It’s been a day. Everybody is organised. We told everyone that they are welcome in our home and they are guests here.

Andrew and Rae Wartnaby have taken in more than 100 displaced foreign nationals. (Amanda Khoza, News24)

Appeal to public for help

"So they cook their own breakfast, lunch and supper. Our plan is to set them up with their own families in their own tents. Everyone is going to have their own plate and spoons,” said Rae.  

The couple is appealing to the public for help.

“We need anything that you need in your home. If everyone gives us a plate and a spoon, we would have enough. We urgently need mattresses and blankets.

"Gift of the Givers, the South African Council of Churches, Islamic Relief and various churches will be assisting us from Wednesday,” she said.  

The couple who have 11 children - two foster, two biological, and the rest adopted – said they were used to having a full house.

“We have looked after foster children since we got married in 1990. This is the first time we have done this on such a big scale,” said Rae.

Andrew added that the family liked flying under the radar.

Rae admitted the past 24 hours had been overwhelming.

“It has been difficult, but look at them, they are happy. It’s a different vibe to the camps because it is safe and it is private property and not municipal land."

Displaced foreign nationals line-up as lunch is served. (Amanda Khoza, News24)

'They weren’t supposed to be treated like that'

“I just want to apologise for the way they were treated. They weren’t supposed to be treated like that. They come from other countries and some of them can’t go back home because there is war.”

When asked how long they would accommodate their guests, Rae said: “The mediators are coming on Friday and the United Nations and after that we will be able to make better decisions on the issue.”

The foreigners were occupying one of the rooms on the farm which would get a new floor this week.

She said her children had adapted to the extended family.

“They are enjoying themselves. They love it. They didn’t get a chance to go on holiday this year, but they are having fun,” said Rae.  

The family is self-sufficient. They raise their own chickens, grow their own vegetables, and have a solar power.

“I know it sounds like we are doing something awesome and unique, but there are many other people doing this and if more people were doing something like this then we wouldn’t have so many people without homes,” said Rae.

The Wartnaby’s guests had mixed feelings about their new home.

Joseph Irambona, 45, says he has been running away from xenophobia since 2008. (Amanda Khoza, News24)

'The way we were arrested violated our rights'

Omba Mfunti, 43, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was not happy.

“We are grateful that Andrew and Rae are letting us stay here, but I just want to leave South Africa. The way we were arrested on Friday violated our rights.

“The problem is that there is war in Congo. We’ll go anywhere where we will find peace,” said the mother of four.

Joseph Irambona, 45, from Burundi was reading his Bible in the packed entertainment hall on the farm. He had been in South Africa since 2003.

“We do not want to go back to our communities. I have been running away from xenophobia since 2008 and I am still running today. It is not right,” said Irambona.

He said living on the farm was better than the camp.

Famba Famba, 40, also from the Democratic Republic of Congo, said he was confused.

“I don’t know what is happening," said Famba Famba, 40, from the DRC.

He said he needed time to adjust to his new environment.

Read more on:    durban  |  xenophobia

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