#Xenophobia: On the run from marauding mob

Police arrest a group of locals suspected of causing major unrest in Katlehong following attacks on foreigners at Mandela squatter camp in the township. Picture: Tebogo Letsie
Police arrest a group of locals suspected of causing major unrest in Katlehong following attacks on foreigners at Mandela squatter camp in the township. Picture: Tebogo Letsie

Katlehong hostel dwellers go on the rampage, attacking not only foreigners but locals, terrorising ‘anyone who sounded’ foreign.

Sitting at the dusty entrance of Katlehong North police station with her two children huddled at her feet, a Zimbabwean mother, Sandra Bhebhe, tells City Press: “We saw two dead foreign nationals. Their burnt bodies lay on the street, a dog was hovering over one of the bodies. I’m scared, I just want to go back home.”

Bhebhe was among hundreds of foreigners seeking refuge at the police station in the township east of Johannesburg after men living in the Khwesini and Buyafuthi hostels in Katlehong mobilised and proceeded to wreak havoc as they terrorised foreigners and South African citizens alike in Mandela Section, Zone 3, also in Katlehong this week.

Bhebhe described the marauding mob of men as being reminiscent of the striking miners armed to the teeth with traditional weapons who occupied the Marikana Koppie in 2012.

Just as was the case in 2012 when the strikes in Marikana ended in tragedy, enveloping the country in shame, so it was on Thursday as dozens of foreigners were left displaced from their residences.

Two people were reported and more than 30 of the marauding men were arrested.

According to community members, and the displaced foreigners, the mob targeted what they described as “Shangaans” – foreigners, particularly from Mozambique – in the area.

In their wake they left hundreds of foreigners with just the clothes on their backs scurrying for refuge at the Katlehong North police station.

Among them, Bhebhe, a 32-year-old Zimbabwean.

She told City Press that she could not fathom “how black people could attack, kill and displace other black people in this manner”.

Most bemusing to the teary-eyed Bhebhe was that – “in a country like South Africa where everyone has been up in arms bemoaning the scourge of violence against women – South African women are now complicit and at times at the forefront of perpetuating violence against foreigners, particularly female immigrants”.

She described how her female landlord had allegedly turned on her – before the marauding men reached the house in which she rented a back room – tossing out most of her belongings and starting to burn them.

Bhebhe said it was at this point that she joined the throngs of other foreigners who were fleeing the area and turning to the police station because it was the closest place to seek refuge.

Police spokesperson Kay Makhubela, who was in the volatile community, could not confirm or deny that any casualties had occurred as a result of the violence.

While other incidents of violence, particularly against foreigners, could be brushed under the carpet as mere flare-ups of criminality, Thursday’s violent attacks on foreigners in Katlehong has, according to Makhubela and Bhebhe, shifted the narrative back to what was at the heart of the violence, Afrophobia, which has resulted in yet another spike in xenophobic attacks.

The most disturbing thing about the violence in Katlehong on Thursday was the manner in which the crowd of men were allegedly terrorising “anyone who sounded” foreign.

This left Shangaan-speaking South Africans in a precarious situation as there was no time to verify individuals’ nationality during the heated altercations.

Another victim of the attacks, Vincent Soko (32), from Malawi, told City Press that he had lived in South Africa since 2014 and worked as a truck driver.

Soko said as a result of the attacks he could not report to work because he had lost his shack to a fire started by the men going around terrorising the community.

“I have been at the police station like everyone else just because I feel safe here. We have been threatened and told that it will happen again until we leave so my only option is to sleep here [at the police station],” he told City Press.

“They [the attackers] said they will not stop until the South African government heeds their call and gets rid of all foreigners in this country.”

An enraged George Mabaso, who identified himself as a Mozambican consulate-general representative, addressed the crowd and asked for his fellow nationals who needed assistance going back home to register their names.

Speaking to City Press, he condemned the violence saying, “what South Africans are doing is appalling” and “they should, if they were unhappy about the conduct of foreigners, engage in dialogue instead of resorting to violence”.

He, with other consulate representatives, organised food and water for the affected people.


What can be done to stop thugs terrorising and attacking foreigners and even foreign-sounding locals?

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