Mail & Guardian, 31 May 2008

PLEASE NOTE: Readers wishing to reproduce and reference this article
should contact the editors of the Mail & Guardian for permission

Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s public appearance and statements deploring xenophobic violence at the weekend seem have boosted his popularity among inhabitants of migrant labour hostels in Johannesburg. Last weekend Buthelezi visited Alexandra, Thokoza, Ramaphosaville and Germiston to console immigrants moved to makeshift camps in town halls and police stations. In Alexandra, Buthelezi told a crowd of locals and foreigners that “we are all shamed. As a South African, I am shamed that such a dastardly thing has happened in our country.” Buthelezi sobbed as he wiped the tears of a weeping Mozambican national, Anna Binda. Condemning the attacks, which left 56 people dead and 47 000 immigrants homeless, he insisted that no political party or “third force” was behind them. “I can hardly believe that a few criminals would turn on our African brothers and sisters like this. Such prejudice and ignorance simply defies reason. An attack on one of our African bothers and sisters is an attack on us all,” he said. The atmosphere at Johannesburg’s main migrant-worker hostels -- Madala in Alexandra, Wolhuter in Jeppestown and Denver in Cleveland -- was sombre when the Mail & Guardian visited them on Tuesday. Dozens of young men, presumably unemployed, were hanging about the main gate of Madala hostel and the local beer hall. The hostel’s dimly lit corridors and dormitories, with their broken windows, burst pipes and overcrowding, presented a picture of dilapidation and neglect. Bheki Mncube, an induna (leader) at Madala, said that despite their many problems, the hostel-dwellers were happy that Buthelezi paid them a visit. The IFP president showed good leadership and the visit assured Zulus that they were not alone in “these dark times when the whole nation is insulting us for causing the attacks”, Mncube said. “Before, the shepherd had not arrived to give guidance, but when he eventually did, things here calmed down. “Umtwana [Buthelezi] did not only come here to speak to the Zulus or members of Inkatha, he came here to speak to the Alexandra community. Anyway, the whole world showed how disgusted they are with these attacks. We’re happy they stopped,” Mncube said. At Wolhuter, induna Simon Mvelase said residents were delighted by Buthelezi’s act of compassion. But he stressed that he had not only cried for the foreigners. “He cried because the Zulus have been fingered in the recent incidents, because the name of the party has been dragged through the mud and because government has taken so long to address the foreigner issue,” he stressed. Mvelase warned that the violence could recur. “When you [start to] mention the army, people get scared and I think that is one reason the violence calmed down. But the gun will not solve the matter. “I am saying that if our leaders do not solve this matter through serious talks, the violence will start again.” “Umtwana ukhuzile, [the child has warned us],” said Denver hostel induna Obert Mbatha. “We need to listen to him.” The hostel-dwellers were not so happy about raids by police and soldiers at Madala, Wolhuter and Denver this week. “On Thursday, the police and the army came here and tore the place down, but they found nothing,” Mncube said. Mvelase said the police and army uncovered one unlicensed pistol and a quantity of dagga. He complained that residents were forced to lie on the cold floors while police ransacked the hostel. Mvelase said the indunas had called meetings since the attacks to give guidance and warn young residents not to involve themselves in crime and violence. Some hostel residents had begun to accuse the indunas of conspiring with the police and the army against them. Mbatha conceded that some hostel-dwellers had taken part in the xenophobic attacks and said that if they had, they deserved to be punished. He welcomed the police raids. The fact that no one was arrested showed that hostel residents were not a danger to the society, he said.