Fear and loathing in Rosettenville

2017-02-19 06:00
Andrew Mwanza

Andrew Mwanza

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Johannesburg - Fear returns to Andrew Mwanza’s face when he speaks of how angry locals attacked his Rosettenville home. 

The 36-year-old Malawian and his four-year-old daughter were left homeless this week after he was caught in the crossfire when furious residents took to the streets of the Johannesburg suburb last Saturday.

They were hunting down foreigners they believed were running drug and prostitution rackets in the neighbourhood.

Mwanza recounts how residents, who had earlier set a neighbour’s house alight, came banging on his door demanding to talk to Nigerians living on the property.

He told them there weren’t any, but they jumped over his gate.

“They assaulted me repeatedly while they conducted a search of the house. It went on for about 15 minutes. Thankfully, my daughter was at crèche,” he says.

“They looted my property. A member of the mob tried to plead with them, but to no avail. I managed to escape.”

Mwanza, a self-employed mechanic, says police officers were there but did nothing to help him.

“From a distance I saw smoke billowing out of the house. I lost everything I have worked for to the mob and the fire. I am grateful that I survived. You only live once, but as for property, I will hopefully buy new wares.”

"No turning back"

Earlier this month, Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba established a task team to raid the suburb whose South African residents are seething. 

Ethel Dumisa, 55, a mother of three girls aged between seven and 18, can no longer tolerate seeing young sex workers in her neighbourhood, whom she says work for foreign pimps.

“There is no turning back. We are cleansing this community until the tidiness of the good old days is restored. We are doing this for the future of our children,” she says.

“We cannot tolerate the evil the foreign nationals are perpetrating here. They are messing the future of our children. They sleep with them all day and send them out at night to sell their bodies.

“I always fear for my girls each time I am at work, uneasy about what might happen in my absence. We cannot tolerate this. We don’t hate foreigners, we only hate the evil they are doing to our children while they get rich.”

Dumisa said the “rich men driving cars with wheels attached to their backs” who frequented local brothels were equally to blame, warning “they must be dealt with next”.

The silence inside the houses burnt down last weekend contrasts with the deafening noise neighbours say they endured for years.

In Lawn Street, South African Clement Dube exposes a scar under his sleeve he says was caused by a druglord next door.

“There used to be lots of noise. I’m a Jehovah’s Witness, but I was no longer going to worship at night fearing these thugs, who normally smoked dagga just outside my house.

"Some will be busy having sex inside, while others drank with girls who were screaming endlessly,” he says.

His pleas to police fell on deaf ears, he claims. They would arrive, but make no arrests.

Yamisa Mda, 21, said the house next door to her family home would be quiet by day, but chaos by night.

“Immediately after 7pm we would see many young girls entering in a sober state, but a few minutes later they would be crisscrossing roads and climbing trees. Others would be screaming. We were scared of going out.”

Peace, she says, came after the properties were burnt.

“We are not xenophobic, but these Nigerians have been a nuisance. They did not have respect for other people. They are rough, cruel and dangerous.”

Drugs and prostitution

This week, Nigerian national Olu Ikedieze moved to Bramley, north of the city, to “escape” the “notorious” Rosettenville.

“I stayed in Jules Street in Malvern, but I left because things were bad there with drugs and prostitution. I then moved to Rosettenville, hoping to enjoy low house rentals, but, sadly, my next-door neighbour – who is a Fulani [Muslim ethnic group] back in Nigeria – had a team of other men doing drugs and prostitution,” he said.

“When eventually their houses were burnt, I also fled the area to avoid being caught in the crossfire. But I don’t think the real druglords were arrested because they had informants from within the police.”

It was the alleged police complicity in the crimes that sparked the conflagration; residents claimed they were taking bribes and were among the young sex workers’ clients.

Gauteng police spokesperson Kay Makhubela said they were aware of the allegations and investigating the reports.

Residents’ tales have found receptive ears among other Nigerians too. Chief Emeka Johnson, president of the South African chapter of All Nigerian Nationals in Diasporas, says his members were “sorry” for the parents of young girls drugged and abused by their countrymen, and were trying to do something about it.

“We have been holding workshops and seminars, but have since intensified such campaigns in both Johannesburg and Pretoria, to educate our members not to get involved in any crime,” he said.

“Since last year, we have undertaken campaigns to dissuade compatriots from involvement in drugs and prostitution. We have gone on to hold symposiums.”

Although his organisation “abhorred” criminal migrants, he said Nigerians were often tarred with the same brush and wrongfully blamed for drugs and prostitution.

“Crime doesn’t know boundaries. Prior to democracy, there have always been cases of drugs in South Africa, so why point at Nigerians only? I would encourage the law enforcement agents to tackle crime without looking at offenders’ nationality,” he said.

Johnson claimed some Rosettenville properties housing sex workers and drug peddlers were owned by South Africans who lured foreigners into “dirty” businesses and that they were not arrested.

“The riff-raff are the last rank of the trade. The cartels and tycoons are not attacked. They live in mansions in posh suburbs,” he said.

Makhubela said on Friday that 18 Nigerians had been arrested since Monday for crimes related to drug dealing and prostitution.

Police operations, he said, had been extended to other areas, including central Johannesburg and Pretoria.

– CAJ News

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  crime

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