Xenophobic attacks: 'I go to Malawi with a heavy heart'

2019-04-02 18:56
March against xenophobia in Johannesburg.

March against xenophobia in Johannesburg. (Denzil Maregele)

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When Malawian community leader Wrightwell Saka came to South Africa three years ago, he had high hopes and aspirations.

"This country is like something else for the rest of Africa. Many of us came here to find some peace and happiness. We wanted to provide for our families back home."

But this is the opposite of what he and his other countrymen faced in the Burnwood informal settlement in Sydenham, Durban, last week.

From Monday, March 25, a barrage of attacks on Malawians left 249 displaced, living at a transit camp adjacent to the Sherwood Community Hall. This after a rogue act of criminality by one Malawian allegedly against one South African.

READ: KZN police await report into alleged xenophobic attacks in Durban

While the nature of the crime is being kept confidential by authorities to avoid further violence, it has fundamentally changed the lives of the foreign nationals forever.

Following the rogue act, violence erupted in the community, with Malawians singled out and ousted from their homes. Locals lashed out at many of their innocent African neighbours saying they were responsible for job losses and criminality in the area.

"People's belongings were taken. They were pushed out of their houses. Some were beaten. Blankets, mattresses and money was stolen from us," Saka told News24 on Tuesday.

While many have returned to Burnwood following interventions by authorities, others have chosen to go back to Malawi.

'I go to Malawi with a heavy heart'

"We do not want to go. Burnwood was a peaceful place. It was new to us to experience this. We had seen it on TV and pictures, but this was an experience, a reality. Most of us are afraid and scared of going back. I go to Malawi with a heavy heart," said Saka.

To Saka, South Africans and Malawians have the same problems in life. He said that both countries had issues relating to job scarcity.

"We also don't have jobs and, if we have jobs, the pay is low. I think, instead of fighting a fellow black man, we were supposed to come together, discuss problems, look forward on how we can solve it, instead of fighting. Africa is one. These borders were demarcated by people we don't know."

eThekwini senior disaster management coordinator Malcolm Canham said there were no incidents of violence at the transit camps.

Following the incident, there were interventions on the ground to bring stability.

"This came from the mayor's office and also the Malawian community and embassy. Once the situation was stablised, locals welcomed back Malawian nationals to the Burnwood area. People have already gone back. The reintegration was successful."

'Our SA counterparts are our siblings, we should not fight'

He said those who chose to go back to Malawi were being assisted by the International Organisation for Migration, the SA immigration department and the Malawian government.

Canham said 105 people had indicated that they wanted to go back, but only 85 had presented themselves to leave.

"They will be moved in batches back to their country."

READ: Ramaphosa condemns xenophobia, warns of action against criminals

He said the site where they had temporarily lived would be shut down from Tuesday.

"Those repatriated have asked to go to ground with relatives and friends. If all works well, we could have the first batch leaving by Wednesday."

Leaving the transit camp, Saka said he felt "very bad".

"We had taken SA as our home. SA is not a country. It is in Africa. We are in our homeland. Our SA counterparts are our siblings, we should not fight. We feel bad our fellow people are doing this to us."

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