Zim refugees in PMB edgy, say they are not sure anymore

2008-05-19 00:00

Although they haven’t been on the receiving end of any concerted violence, Zimbabwean refugees eking out a living in Pietermaritzburg are feeling decidedly edgy.

A large group of Zimbabweans living and working in cramped quarters in the CBD were united yesterday in their concern for the situation in Gauteng and the possibility it might spill over into neighbouring provinces.

Although most described South Africans in the city as "friendly" and "accommodating", many said they have been victims of threats, name-calling or intimidation. They have often been told to "go home".

"At first I felt safe, now I’m not so sure. Where’s this situation going?" asked a refugee who gave his name as Mike.

Chairman of the MDC for KwaZulu-Natal, Texas Jiji, yesterday confirmed that there is no evidence at this stage of an increase in xenophobic attacks against Zimbabweans in Pietermaritzburg or Durban.

"There have been isolated attacks on individuals in the past, and intimidating verbal exchanges, but it is nothing like the mobilised violence we are seeing in Gauteng," he said. "Naturally, we are very concerned about our brothers in Johannesburg, but at this stage, we have no cause for alarm [here]."

MDC regional organising secretary Temba Chiborise yesterday said his organisation is "monitoring the situation closely". He said there is some concern that high numbers of Zimbabweans living together in the city could make them an easy target.

"There is little we can do. Our appeal is to the powers that be to protect us. We are asking South Africans to be sensible. During apartheid they were in our country …" he said.

Tsitsi (23) and her 28-year-old-friend who declined to be named said they feel increasingly unsafe. The pair said they are frequently accused by Pietermaritzburg people of taking their jobs.

"They call us names — ‘amakwerekwere’. It makes me feel bad," says Tsitsi. "They say we are making the city dirty."

o An MDC demonstration is scheduled to take place on Saturday in Durban to draw attention to the political situation in Zimbabwe, and the issue of xenophobic attacks.

Funds are also being raised to help Zimbabweans return to vote in the upcoming presidential run-off. For more information, contact Jiji at 072 760 5652 or Chiborise at 071 239 8423.

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