‘I watched them die’ – SA man in Cairo

2011-01-31 08:49

An employee at SA’s embassy in Cairo watched protesters being beaten and fielded calls from concerned South Africans, as the Egyptian capital flared up over a leadership dispute, the Cape Times reported today.

“I just stayed quietly in my house last night and prayed. I said: ‘Oh God, just protect us from this situation’,” James Useni was quoted saying.

“I am shivering as I tell you this. I watched people being killed when they tried to burn the tanks. I watched them die. At the time it was like watching a movie, but it was live and real. It is unpleasant and tense here. There are no planes, there is no internet and our cellphones don’t work,” Useni said yesterday from the South African embassy’s Cairo office.

According to the embassy’s database there were more than 100 South Africans, and scores of unregistered students, most of them from Cape Town, in and around Cairo where violent protests continued for six days.

Useni said he was waiting for orders as to whether South Africans would be evacuated.

Earlier yesterday, he had heard gunshots which he believed came from a prison from which hundreds of convicts had fled.

“I’m just staying in my office. I don’t know what’s going to happen today or tomorrow. We’re not officially working.

“We’re advising South African citizens in Egypt to stay indoors. If there are any later developments, like evacuation orders, we’ll communicate this.”

Useni, originally from Zimbabwe and who had been working in Egypt for a decade, said he had received a number of calls from South Africans wanting to know what to do. He had been telling visiting South Africans to go home if they could.

However, with no transport in or out of Egypt, two of the embassy’s auditors had tried to leave on Friday, but gave up after spending two nights at the airport.

Riad Fataar, a Mitchells Plain, Cape Town resident and Muslim Judicial Council executive member, said three of his children, a grandchild and son-in-law, were in Cairo and were using a landline to talk as cellphones and the internet were down.

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