Foreigners under attack at Jika Joe

2014-01-17 00:00

FOREIGNERS scattered in all directions, fleeing for their lives as a mob chased them with pangas and knob-kerries during a violent xenophobic attack that lasted for several hours at the Jika Joe informal settlement.

Many were injured in the surprise attack on Wednesday night, which lasted into the early hours of yesterday, while others apparently jumped on to the busy N3 freeway in Pietermaritzburg as they tried to get away.

There were also several unconfirmed reports from people at the settlement that some people had died.

Police spokesperson Colonel Jay Naicker said the police have established that early on Wednesday evening, “a group of over 400 people gathered and brandished sticks and knobkerries. It was established the community held a meeting and were planning to evict foreigners from their settlement.”

He said although there were allegations that a group of foreigners were assaulted during the protest, they have refused to lay any charges. Police are continuing to monitor the area.

The foreign nationals were attacked and chased out by the mob who came back to break into their locked, but abandoned homes, and looted them.

From 6 pm the previous evening until 3 am yesterday morning the mob kicked in doors of foreigners’ homes and stole TVs and microwaves.

The mob also looted their businesses.

The foreigners who managed to hide out with friends fled in the early hours of yesterday morning. Their partners and children — who were spared the violence but not the looting — followed them in the morning.

By midday yesterday, locals said there was not a single foreign person remaining in the settlement.

Several locals who spoke to The Witness on condition of anonymity for fear of their lives said they witnessed scenes of horror as the foreigners, mostly coming home from work, were ambushed by the marauding mob.

“It was a horrible and very painful to see what we saw last night,” said one community member. “They [foreigners] were not even aware that the locals had conspired to attack them.”

The source said the conflict started after the discovery of the body of a local man some believed had been killed by foreigners earlier that day.

“This guy’s body was found next to the river where he had died. He had the habit of abusing foreigners and finally they had enough and a fight broke out. He fled towards the river where he was electrocuted by the illegal electricity connections and died.”

Although the death was confirmed by several people at the settlement, The Witness was unable to confirm it with the police.

The source said in the afternoon, men in the community had a meeting where they decided that they did not want any foreigners in the area.

“I phoned all the foreign guys I know and told them not to set foot there. Others unfortunately walked into the violence coming home,” said a local.

Some locals expressed fear that the situation would worsen.

“We did not sleep on Wednesday night … this mob said they were coming back tonight. This is criminal activity,” said one.

The Reverend Sampson Matabaro of the Key Ministry International, an organisation involved in education about xenophobia, said they were not aware of the latest attack. He said the matter needed to be looked at closely because xenophobia is used to hide other motives.

He said both locals and foreigners needed to be educated so they could learn tolerance. And those that were displaced by the attack, especially the women and children, he said, could visit their centres, The House and the Ubunye Centre, both in West Street.

Local councillor Nalini Atwaru, who was informed of the attacks, said people should learn to be tolerant.

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