Xenophobia – One Year On

One year after the wave of xenophobic attacks swept across South Africa, a quick revisit to some of the stories from last May and a look at where we are now.

We, more than many other nations, should know better. We should know better because we have just emerged from more than three centuries of the horror of settler colonialism and apartheid… This madness has to stop. There is simply no justification for attacking people simply because they are not South African nationals.

Editorial, City Press. May 2008.

The Times takes a look at how those affected are still haunted by the events of May 2008.

Meanwhile, those displaced by the violence are concerned about the onset of winter in the Cape. 

“The government cut electricity last year. It is painful to live under (such) hard conditions. Now winter is coming, I don’t know what is going to happen,” said Dieudonne Masumbuko, who was among a group gathering charcoal to ward off the cold and prepare food. Masumbuko, from Burundi, does not want to return to the local community from whom he fled, but wants to be sent to any country other than his own “where there are problems”.

Burundi native Jacqueline Uwamahoro said keeping her two children healthy and safe during the winter was her big concern.
“The tents are already broken, so water will flow in,” said Uwamahoro. “There is no electricity so I have to bath the children in cold water.”

My posts on the xenophobic attacks last year are still by far the most searched items on 6000 miles… Read them here.

Although it was making all the headlines at the time, the xenophobia in SA disappeared fairly rapidly from the news, although xenophobia is immediately given as a possible cause when any incident involving violence against foreign nationals is reported, in light of last year’s events. But these are just sporadic occurrences – we have seen no repeat of the orchestrated violence which shamed the country last May.

So has SA moved on? Ben Sithole, a Mozambican living in Ramaphosa doesn’t think so:

“Those images I saw, and the victims’ cries for help … are still haunting me .. .”

He is one of a handful of foreigners who returned, and he knows he’s not safe. Though his neighbours have assured him that they will protect him, the people who burned his friend to death are still there, boasting about their crime, and some areas are too dangerous for him to enter.

Finally, a happier tale of Lizbeth Gumbi and Gustodio Muvale who escaped the violence and were given refuge by a couple in Primrose on the East Rand. Their child Zanele will turn one year old later this month.

I hope that her name and story can be remembered alongside those of Ernesto Nhamuave, the “burning man” whose picture shocked the world last May. Because while the appalling and unnecessary xenophobic violence is something that cannot and should not be forgotten, that good news stories and renewed hope can come out of such horror is an important lesson we can also learn.