MORE TO VIOLENCE THAN MEETS THE EYE

Mail & Guardian, 26 October 2000

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Although it was the murder of a local resident, allegedly by a Zimbabwean, a month ago that set off the violence, it emerged this week that xenophobia was not the only issue.

Sheer criminality coupled with personal and intra-party political jealousies seem to have contributed, with some individuals latching on to the situation to advance their own objectives or get even with rivals.

Koos Miya, a South African bus driver, says a lack of political tolerance is the major problem; it is why his shack was destroyed. His wife, also a South African, is a prominent politician — the chairperson of the local African National Congress branch.

He says their shack was torched simply because his wife "is a politician hewn from different stuff; she is not your ordinary corruption-prone and unscrupulous type."

He reckons that his wife also seems to have rubbed local leaders up the wrong way when she communicated with the office of the Minister of Safety and Security, Steve Tshwete, about the problem of people masterminding the violence.

Three South African-born women who are married to Zimbabwe nationals echo Miya's sentiments. They too believe the attacks smack of political chicanery. They say the ringleaders of the gang that carry out the attacks wanted to bar "foreigners" from moving into Block 52, a fairly improved area with new and serviced stands.

They argue that it is not the first time that Xhosa-speaking people were killed — so why this type of reaction now?

"Surely there must be something more to it than meets the eye," says one of them.

Not at all, says Alpheus Madikane, a local ANC leader in Zandspruit.

"From 1996 foreigners have been attacking and killing us. They shot and killed one of us at a local shebeen last month. We have to defend ourselves. And one way of doing it is to drive foreigners out of the area."

Addressing members of the informal settlement on Tuesday, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela — who arrived in a Mercedes-Benz — had more to say about the government than about Zimbabweans.

She said the fact that people were still living under squalid conditions showed that the government was failing its people.

"They are driving nice and expensive cars and live comfortably while you people suffer. I have come here to listen to your complaints," she said.

And they did. Speaker after speaker spewed unbrindled anti-Zimbabwean sentiments, claiming they were "being killed by foreigners".

At the Honeydew police station Madikizela-Mandela said she did not understand why Zimbabweans should receive such inhuman treatment after their country gave refuge to South Africans during the liberation struggle. She promised to look into their plight.

This would be welcome for Jackson Sibanda, who came to South Africa in 1980 and is among the 100 Zimbabweans given temporary shelter in the yard of Honeydew police station.

Sibanda says he used to board at a property owned by a white landlord. In 1983 he, with people living in the adjacent area, moved to the informal settlement.

He says he does not know what went wrong in Zandspruit. "All of a sudden something somewhere just snapped.

"To them, just because we are non-South African, we deserve to live in sub-human conditions."