Rosettenville vigilante violence leaves Malawian family homeless

2017-02-14 09:23

Johannesburg – Elube Mwalwen, who emigrated from Malawi to South Africa, was making her way home from work when she noticed a commotion outside her home on Lawn Street, Rosettenville.

"People were shouting and screaming and being very violent. I saw my husband standing with our baby on the opposite side of the street. I just went to them and watched while the house was set on fire," said Mwalwen.

All their belongings went up in flames on Saturday, GroundUp reported. The vigilantes cheered.

Her husband Albert Mwanza, 36, works as a mechanic. He was in the house sleeping when a commotion woke him up.

"When I went outside to see what was happening I was beaten by some men. They were saying I am a Nigerian and I’m selling drugs."

Mwanza’s attackers started fighting among themselves when one of them recognised that he was from Malawi and attempted to stop the others from beating him. Mwanza took advantage of the confusion to grab his 18-month-old son before fleeing into the street.

'Too many people'

After they set the house on fire, the vigilantes looted the Ethiopian-owned tuck shop next door. The owner locked the store and ran.

"They smashed the shutter broken and took everything very quickly. Even the fridges were stolen. The police were just watching, but there were too many people, maybe hundreds," neighbour Anderson Mapata said.

Elube Mwalwen surveys the damage
Elube Mwalwen surveys the damage done to the room which she rents in the house which was set alight during a vigilante attack. (Ihsaan Haffejee/GroundUp)

Mwalwen and Mwanza rented a room in the home that was torched. They shared the house with other immigrants from Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

The house is owned by a Nigerian man, who said his name was Michael Steven. The property was divided into two houses, the Ethiopian tuck shop and a bottle store run by Steven. Locals claimed the bottle store was being used to sell drugs (GroundUp has not been able to verify this claim).

Mwalwen came to South Africa from Lilongwe four years ago. She works at a carwash nearby, six days a week.

"I leave home at six in the morning and I return at seven in the evening, working very hard every day. I am the one trying to look after the family, and to lose everything like this is very, very painful. We did not manage to save anything. The clothes I have on now is all I have," she said.

They lost their passports and their baby’s birth certificate.

"If I have to go to the clinic to get my child immunised, they will ask for a birth certificate and I don’t have that, so my baby will suffer. Also the police will be harassing me. Now that I have no documentation, they will want to arrest me. So now I am living in fear."

Nowhere to go

Having lost their home, the family spent the night outside the neighbouring home. They said the vigilantes returned at 03:00 to loot the neighbouring home, which also belongs to Steven.

"Tonight, I do not know where we will go. I will most likely have to spend another night in the streets with my wife and child unless I can get some money and find a room to rent," said Mwanza while cradling his baby.

Down the road from this incident, another home was set on fire. The arsonists claimed it was a brothel run by Nigerians.

Two young South African men live next door.

"We are happy about how the community is dealing with this drugs and prostitution thing. We both have kids and when we step outside our homes, we are confronted by prostitutes and guys selling drugs on every corner. This is not a good environment for our kids," said one of them, who did not want to be named.

"The police do nothing so the people have decided to mobilise and handle the matter themselves."

According to police, about 10 houses, which residents claim are used by drug lords, were torched.

Police spokesperson Captain Kay Makhubela said police would patrol the area until calm was restored.

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  protests  |  mob violence

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