By China Ngubane, UKZN Centre for Civil Society (Dennis Brutus Community Scholars programme) – reporting on events from 31 March through 6 April in Isipingo, Durban
Whether organised or random, xenophobic attacks against Black African migrant nationals in Isipingo during the past week were not new, but represent an ongoing crisis for immigrants. In 2014, salons run by foreign nationals were looted and destroyed, replaced by local street businesses. Though the press did not cover the stories, some people were shot dead. Even if cases were opened with the police, no justice resulted. No one was arrested. And no preventive measures were taken.
On Tuesday the 31st of March, I received a call from Daniel Dunia, who runs a computer repairs and sales shop in Isipingo. Dunia is also a leader of the African Solidarity Network (Asonet). He told me he was in the shop at around 10am on Monday morning: “I saw people beating the boys that run a barber shop in Jadward Street. They beat them and looted from the saloons; they took the mirrors, scissors, tents, and everything else. When I came out I saw my fellow African brothers running away. As I went closer I heard people saying “bashaye” (beat them).. “Tthe king (Goodwill Zwelithini) said we must hit them.”
Dunia said at the beginning the attackers numbered less than two dozen, but the more the mob progressed, the more the numbers grew. They were only men. “I followed them until they arrived near PEP Store where they broke into another salon. They broke the door, they took all the equipment including hair products, and they beat the salon owner.”
This is when the police arrived, but there were only two police. Dunia continued:
“At the same time I received a call that they (locals) are breaking another salon again. We rushed to the police van in the vicinity and luckily the Station Commander was also there. I asked what could be done, and he said close all the shops and the salons for today. As we were talking with the police the mob went a few metres away, and started to break into our computer shops even though they were already closed. As our brothers started running away the mob started throwing stones and beating them. This took quite a while. Zulus were screaming: go away Kwerekweres, our King said you must go! Voetsek!, Shaya! Vimba!”
Indeed King Goodwill Zwelithini had the prior week given a ‘Moral Regeneration’ speech and amongst his words were attacks on immigrant workers: “When foreigners look at them [local South Africans], they will say: ‘Let us exploit the nation of fools.’ You find their unpleasant goods hanging all over our shops, they soil our streets. We cannot even recognise which shop is which, there are foreigners everywhere… We ask foreign nationals to pack their belongings and go back to their countries.”
Once police arrived, according to Dunia,
“We thought they were going to stop people from looting shops and beating people. Because all this happened close to a taxi rank, a big crowd was suddenly visible attacking migrant nationals. Taxi drivers also joined the attacks; it was shocking that all this was happening while police were there, but they could not arrest even a single person. The police were powerless, all they did was to shout from afar, hey stop-stop! When people finished looting, police said they can escort us to the police station for safety. As we came here locals now had all the freedom to break into the closed shops; we received phone calls that our shops were being looted. We told the police commissioner that people are looting our shops, and he said there is nothing they could do because they were understaffed. They tried to help but it wasn’t much.”
Later that evening, said Dunia,
“We stared to see Somalian people coming here running. They were attacked and their shops were looted and burnt at Malukazi, about three kilometres from Isipingo. After attacking shops the mob spread into the streets and houses where they beat every migrant national, damage and loot property. The nationalities affected and currently at the Police Station are Burundians, Mozambicans, Tanzanians, Congolese, Ugandans, Malawians, Somalians and Ethiopians.”
According to Samuel, a refugee from the DRC, “They beat me in my house near Folweni taxi rank and took everything away.” Ksai Ruvinga, who also runs a salon in the RedBro Building in Isipingo, saw people coming towards his shop, but he managed to escape and ran away with his wife and other workers, and luckily his kids were at the crèche. Ruvinga’s employees (locals) were never touched, as looters simply took some of the equipment such as driers and they left. “My shop is located between a Chinese, Indian and a Pakistan, I am wondering why they only targeted me,” he said. According to Ruvinga, a local Zulu guy well known as a friend to some migrant nationals was almost attacked because the mob thought he was not from South Africa.
According to another Congolese immigrant, Kabango Ocean, “I was hit by a big stone on the head on Monday around noon. So far I am one of the few who was allowed to file an affidavit and to open a case.” His compatriot Labwe had his shop looted in Alexandra Road and reported that nothing was left. “Our major need is security. Being located somewhere else will not help because we left our belongings. We need tight security so that we can go back to our work.”.
Ruvinga said the challenges now facing the newly displaced migrants at the police station were the limited sanitary facilities. “It is hard especially with children crying.” But he appreciated that Isipingo police were quite helpful in making sure that people get enough food. It was heart-breaking to see Ruvinga’s daughter crying for something to eat. Due to fear it was even a challenge for Ruvinga to go and buy something for her at the nearby shop outside the police station. Ruvinga continued,
“There were a series of meetings with authorities and police. They proposed that they will take our children and wives to a safe place. We did not agree to that because firstly all of us – women, children and men – need safety. Secondly, we did not know where they were going to keep our children and women. Today we see some improvement because there is food coming. The other challenge is accommodation. Also they don’t allow everyone to make an affidavit, and they only allow those that are seriously injured to do so. Everyone has a problem in Isipingo, we don’t only lose property or a place to stay. Some lost their documents and it is not fair to allow only seriously injured people. Proper food, medication, women’s sanitary material and child support were among other needs.”
Another immigrant, Maison, was also a victim:
“Zulus are saying people from Congo are taking their places. Zulus are jealous. They think we have a lot of money, and that Zulus are working for us. Three boys aged between eleven and fifteen say they cannot go to school, and they have been facing this. Teachers treat migrant students as outcasts. We are always told hey Kwerekwere you must go outside. We don’t need you in the class at Plattdrive School. We thank the government of this country for keeping us in here, they really helped us, but some of the people in this country are very bad. But people from Mozambique, Malawi and DRC never attack one another, it’s only South Africans attacking other blacks.”
Philomena, also from the DRC, received a beating, and still has bruises from when she was trying to run away with her two children. The mob almost caught her by Isipingo taxi rank. “Our children are traumatised and they are crying, for the past two and a half days people share same toilets with police officials, sleeping on open ground with no blankets, with traumatised children.” As she talked, a pregnant woman lay on the ground nearby, bleeding. Police soon intervened and she was taken to hospital.
On Wednesday the 1st of April a meeting was held with eThekwini Mayor James Nxumalo and the provincial Member of the Executive Council for Safety, Willies Mchunu. They welcomed all including migrant representatives. Among other officials present were General Ciliza (Isipingo Police SAPS), Dr Musa Gumede (Deputy City Manager for Community and Emergency Services), Councillors, officials from government in the province and Metro Police. For some of us it was really heartening to see the Mayor deeply involved and concerned about the crisis. One could witness his tireless efforts in engaging all stakeholders and himself being visible in the scene until late hours
The meeting was to give feedback about the ongoing discussions on this regard. He indicated that there has been a series of meetings to make sure that we deal with this matter and see how best we can find recommendations. The Mayor welcomed any information that may arise from the report. The way forward proposed by the Mayor and the MEC included four main areas to assist in addressing the current challenges:
· All arms of the government will have to discharge their various responsibilities. This is so that we can proceed in a manner that is in compliance with International Law. We need to conclude a verification process, which is the responsibility of the department of Home Affairs, to verify with the people that have been displaced, so that the assistance to be provided to them is contacted within the parameters of the South African Law. The Mayor will work very closely with the Home Affairs to ensure that the process is undertaken and concluded as required.
· The Mayor and the MEC recognised that the current state of the groups’ presence in the police station premises does not allow the normal functioning of the police to continue. The municipality will look at a site for temporary accommodation and accommodate members who have been displaced. The accommodation will cater for females and children in one structure and for males in another. Toilets, bins for waste collection, water to drink and wash, and electricity will be supplied.
· Food (raw and cooked) will be supplied by municipal supporters as short term solution to deal with the immediate situation.
· A broader community will gather to begin persuading an integrative process so that victims could resume normal life, so that kids can go back to school and home where they will play with their normal friends; so that women can go back and run their normal lives and men can go and run their normal businesses. The consultation process will require the affected members of the community (both South African and non-South African) and the employer (where the whole matter started). The mayor said we all desire that you are reintegrated back to your communities.
The Mayor acknowledged that we are dealing with a crisis and that the municipality is not responsible for the way the crisis has been started. He said by the end of the day Government and the Municipality have the responsibility to ensure that we arrest the situation, ensure that we save lives, and make sure that we keep people in safety. The Mayor also said that we need to work together and he requested respect and co-corporation from all parties involved. He also emphasised that even our attitudes counts since we are dealing with such a serious crisis, and reminded that we have one particular objective to make sure that we normalise the situation and that there is no loss of property. We will not allow any misbehaving from anyone whether South African or non-South African. “What binds us is that we are all human beings, and we are all Africans. We must ensure that we meet one another in finding solutions” he said.
The Mayor said we need to know who and how many people we are dealing with.
“We don’t want to find ourselves ending up with people who were not affected. That is why the registration of the affected people becomes important so we will be in control of the situation. It’s unfortunate that this is happening at a time we are approaching Easter Weekend; most of the churches are not available and all community halls are booked hence the only option available will be to provide marquees for males and for women. We do this even for our own people, for instance when there is fire in the informal settlements. We want to make sure that we talk with the people so that we can start the integration process. For now we cannot say go back because it is not safe to go there, and there will be a time when we feel it’s now safe for people to go there. We did this when the same happened in 2008 and we believe we can still do it through a process of normalisation. We do welcome all donations from all organisations and NGOs. And thus a secured site that is fenced will be provided and there will be controlled access to the site. SAPS and Metro Police will provide a 24 hour protection there until the situation gets better. There will be patrols by police.”
Dunia thanked the Mayor and the Police for their intervention and support at the police station. He suggested that the verification process was not relevant at the moment:
“We feel that what is needed is the help of the affected people and verification may follow afterwards. All of the people here came running from their places, and they have lost not only their property but also their documents. Even the so called illegal immigrants should be protected while they are here because the situation is not good out there. We also appreciate the provision of marquees and security. However the problem is that there are only a few Police and they are not able to control the situation. This is what happened even when this started, we are worried that if just 100 people come to attack us the police will not be able to control the situation. Even the fence will not help because they come with destructive tools. They were able to break into our shops even if they were closed and they can still throw stones at the marquees.”
Dunia requested to speed up the process because the affected are paying rent:
“This is month end and our landlords are waiting for their money. Because we are not working it is going to be very difficult for us to pay our rents. If we don’t pay the rent, we will find our things thrown out and we will be left with no home or business.”
Ahmed, an immigrant from Ethiopia, said the attacks are continuing, and his father was attacked as he tried to open the AAJ Cash and Carry shop in Isipingo. Looting followed:
“Even if we close the shops and our houses they still come and break in and loot. As we are here, what can we do to ensure that our things are safe?” He added that the issue of verification by the Department of Home Affairs is problematic because the number of victims at the police station is increasing every day. “Either due to fear or attacks victims are still coming from places such as Malakhazi and Umlazi” he said. On Tuesday night there were between 400 – 500 people. Salima, a victim from the DRC, asked how their belongings would be taken to the camp site.
General Ciliza emphasised the issue of attitude and co-operation. He said the shop was looted because the situation was still tense. It is important to wait until the situation is conducive. Ciliza advised people not take risks, and encouraged everyone to convey this massage to affected colleagues. The verification is going to be checking the status of people in South Africa. If a person is found to be illegal, another process will kick them out, he said.
Dr Gumede briefed the crowd that they are still dealing with other logistical issues and that a site was found that it is sufficiently secure. ”As a government we cannot overrule some laws. We want to help everyone, but when we help, we help within the law; that is why it is important for us to understand that the verification process should be done whether it happens now or later.”
Friday the 3rd of April marked a Black Easter for migrants as they were moved from the police station. Victims were first placed at Isipingo beach grounds during the afternoon in marquees. According to another immigrant, Samson Makwinja from Malawi,
“South Africans are angry because we are taking their jobs and we accept little money. One cannot buy life, we only live once, we cannot compromise our lives, we want to go back home. We are happy that our Malawian Ambassador in SA arrived here today, and we told him that we want to go home.”
From the DRC, Coco Bishongo, complained that the new camp was not good for women and children. “For the past four days at the police station we had no bath. It is also a similar situation here that there are no bathing facilities. Women and children are also sharing toilets with men.” Coco said she wished that if there were to be taken somewhere where it is safe, outside South Africa, “We rather go. We are tired of being treated like this.” Although food was provided at the Isipingo Beach site, some were not happy about the quality of food and the small portions. But this was rectified by the following day.
On the 5th of April, Minister of Home Affairs Melusi Gigaba arrived at the scene with his team for the verification process. According to Diaku Dianzenza, Chairperson of the African Solidarity Network, “We are pleased about the great developments that Minister Gigaba is willing to work with migrant communities on a long term basis. The verification process was suspended; the reason being, that it will look like victimising people who are in a situation of disaster.”
But on April 6, a group of workers were warned of possible new attacks in Kernville. Workers, among them migrant nationals, were almost attacked by a mob from Thuthukani shack settlement. Even though the victims managed to escape before the mob drew closer, there were strong warnings that there will be attacks after Easter holidays. Messages mobilising South Africans to kill all foreigners have been going around since last Friday. This is going to start as a march organised for migrants on Wednesday at Botha’s gardens near the market in Durban. However migrant networks said in an interview that they are not part of that march. Some said they fear that this might have been organised by people who are circulating the message to kill foreigners on Wednesday.
King Goodwill Zwelithini’s speech, translated by the Sunday Times (5 April 2015)
Both King Dinizulu and King Cetshwayo were arrested for fighting for our country’s freedom . . . but when we talk of South Africans in 2015 we talk of people who do not want to listen, who do not want to work, who are thieves, child rapists and housebreakers. People who are lazy and who do not want to plough the fields.
When foreigners look at them, they will say: ‘Let us exploit the nation of fools.’ You find their unpleasant goods hanging all over our shops, they soil our streets. We cannot even recognise which shop is which, there are foreigners everywhere. I know it is hard for other politicians to challenge this, because they are after their votes. Please forgive me, but this is my responsibility, I must talk, I cannot wait for five years to do this.
As king of the Zulu nation, which is respected worldwide because of the role it played in fighting for freedom in Africa, I will not keep quiet when our country is led by people who have no opinion. It is time to say something.
I ask our government to help us fix our own problems, help us find our own solutions. It is time to take our blankets into the sun so that the fleas can come out.
We ask foreign nationals to pack their belongings and go back to their countries.