ABOUT 500 FOREIGN NATIONALS, INCLUDING MORE THAN 180 CHILDREN, ARE STILL FEARFUL OF RETURNING TO THE COMMUNITIES IN DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA
"They came and tried to attack me again after asking me what I am still doing here while other people have left the country."
By Subry Govender
Nearly two months after the outbreak of another round of xenophobia in South Africa, about 500 foreign nationals are still being sheltered in an over-crowded camp in Durban. They are part of the more than 5 000 people who had sought refuge at two camps in the city after they were attacked and displaced early in April. The xenophobic attacks took place in several areas in and around Durban and Johannesburg after the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, called on foreign nationals to pack their bags and return to their home countries. The King later called on his subjects to desist from attacking foreign nationals after being pressurised by the South African Government and human rights organisations. Subry Govender visited the refugee camp in an area called Chatsworth in Durban and filed this report about the desperate plight of the remaining displaced migrants.......... .
Surrounded by tight security and manned both by security guards and South African Police Force members, about 500 foreign nationals are still being sheltered in the Westcliffe area of Chatsworth in Durban, South Africa.
One has to pass through a security gate to enter the area and you have to report your presence to the municipal and government officials. Visitors, including journalists, are not allowed to enter the main area where the displaced foreign nationals sleep in two huge marquees. There are also smaller tents inside the camp where the people are provided with meals and medical care.
The foreign nationals, mainly from the Congo and Burundi, are a traumatic lot as they are not keen to return to the areas in and around Durban where they had been attacked, robbed of their possessions and forced to flee for their lives.
Many of them have been in South Africa for 10 and 15 years and they feel they are not safe in the country as they have been targeted several times since 2008 when the first phase of xenophobic attacks took place.
They appear to be disillusioned and lost despite the South African Government, its leaders, national and provincial ministers, local government mayors and officials and all progressive forces embarking on a major campaign to condemn the violence and to help the victims soon after the outbreak of the latest round of xenophobic attacks early in April.
Peace rallies were also held in Durban and Johannesburg under the theme "We are all Africans".
They told me that foreign nationals were still being attacked and killed and provided me with newspaper clippings of recent attacks.
(STEVE MESHE FROM THE CONGO)
Steve Meshe is a 35-year-old Congolese who returned to an area of Effingham with his wife and three children a week ago after being encouraged to do so by South African Government officials. But Meshe, who has been in South Africa for the past 10 years and has been working as a car guard to earn a living, was forced to return to the camp in Chatsworth. He was was attacked on his way to work a few days ago.
"They came and tried to attack me again after asking me what I am still doing here while other people have left the country," he said.
"Someone pointed a gun at my back and another person shoved a knife in my stomach. They took whatever I had and threw my bag into the bush. They promised that if they see me again they will shoot me.
"My wife then advised me to return to the shelter in Chatsworth. I was here for one and half months, I left a week ago but I am back again," he said.
(BIGARAMAN ANISET FROM BURUNDI)
A forty-five-year-old man from Burundi, Bigaraman Aniset, who has been in South Africa for the past 12 years with his wife and six children, is also a broken person. He has been at the camp for the past one month. He says he was forced to flee the area where he lived with his family because the locals accused him of taking away their jobs. He worked as a truck driver.
"You see." he said, "we cannot go back to the place where our brothers were burnt and killed".
"To go back to the same area is not possible because we will be the next to be killed.
"I want the UN to take me where I can get the peace. We don't have peace here."
(DIDIER BIGAMBE OF THE CONGO)
Another victim, Didier Bigambe, who is also from the Congo, told me all the people still in the camp appreciated the efforts of the South African Government but their experiences on the ground were directly opposite to the: "We are all Africans" - messages being given by President Jacob Zuma, his ministers and the media.
"I lost all my personal belongings and my business," he said.
"I don't even have twenty rand. I have asked them to deport me home. I want to go back home like the Malawians and Zimbabweans. I am a human being. If I don't feel safe you can't force me to go back to the community. But they are forcing us here to always go back to the community. We want to go back home."
The officials at the camp say they are doing everything in their power either to make it possible for the remaining victims to re-integrate in the communities or to return to their home countries. They emphasised the camp was only temporary.
(DR AINSLEE McCARTHY)
One of the medical officials providing health care to the refugees, Dr Ainslee McCarthy, of Medicines San Frontier ( Doctors Without Borders), said they had found that most of the victims had been seriously traumatised by the latest xenophobic attacks. She said they understood the fears being expressed by the people at the camp.
"A large portion of them have stories about being treated unfairly by people in positions of power, whether it's the police or some officials in Home Affairs, or when they had gone to clinics and told that they are foreigners," said Dr McCarthy.
"They are asked why you here, told you must go back to your country, you taking our jobs, you creating problems for us, they are very aware of this and it's hard for them to bridge the gap.
"So it's one of the main roles the UNHCR, Community Safety and Liaison and other actors in the shelter are working on in trying to bridge this gap."
Over the past few days, South African leaders have gone out of their way to celebrate and observe Africa Day and promote African unity and development through the Pan African Parliament and other events. Despite these efforts, many foreign nationals are still not convinced that they are safe in the country.