XENOPHOBIC HORROR REVISITED

The Star, 28 March 2008

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Throughout Monday night and into the early hours of Tuesday morning, John* was holed up in a shack in Atteridgeville with two fellow Zimbabweans. One of them was 35-year-old Tamunorwa Kufandada. He was about to become a fatal victim of the horrific xenophobia that visited the Tshwane area this week. The shack, like most other humble residences in the informal settlement of Mushongwe, was owned by a South African who had given it to the two Zimbabwean men who worked for him, as part-payment for their labour as general hands. Thinking it would be a safe haven, given that it was local and not foreign owned, John had moved into the shack the day before, as the violence that had begun to grip the sprawling area a few days earlier was reaching a crescendo. For hours that night, they listened to the rioting outside. Hundreds of men had descended on the area seeking out all asylum seekers. They came armed with iron bars, hammers, knives, shovels and other heavy instruments that would inflict maximum harm. With cans of petrol, they proceeded to set homes alight. "Go back to your country," they heard them shout. "Why don't you go back to where you came from?" There wasn't a whisper to be heard from the shack where the three Zimbabweans were huddled inside. "But at 12.50am they broke the door down," John recalls. "There were about 20 of them and they were carrying candles." They shone the light in their faces and started shouting: "Where do you come from, where do you come from?" The men tried to stay silent, for fear their accents would give them away. But, as the men began to hammer them with iron bars and hammers - "We had no chance", John says - they relented and identified themselves as three of the supposed millions of Zimbabweans seeking refuge in South Africa today. "Kill them, kill them," one of the men shouted. "Not inside, not inside. Take them outside," another responded. With the commotion of getting so many of them through the narrow door, John managed to escape into the nearby grass, where he buried himself for what seemed like an eternity. From his makeshift refuge he heard his comrades cry and scream with the severity of the beatings. They cut one man's mouth and beat him badly on the back before he managed a miraculous escape. With only one victim left on whom they could unleash their anger, they proceeded to hammer Tamunorwa to a pulp. All 20 of them pounced on him, bringing the weight of their lethal weapons down on his 35-year-old body. Finally, believing that he had taken his last breath, the mob began to turn on their heels, just as Tamunorwa groaned in agony. "Then they came back. They said they were going to burn him," John recalls. Which they duly did. They tied his hands and feet with wire, dragged him back into what he thought had been his safe haven and set him and the shack alight. Some hours later, when he believed it was safe to venture inside the remains of what was left of that one-room building, John found his new-found comrade burnt to a cinder. "His whole body wasn't burnt, but you couldn't recognise him any longer. His arms and legs were really bad." Tamunorwa had moved to South Africa from Masvingo six weeks ago. He had found work as a general hand, earning R70 a day, with the added bonus of free accommodation. He is survived by his wife and three children, who John says are trying to make plans to take the body home. John, for his part, is in hiding in Mpumalanga, where he had fortunately sent his two children to stay with friends on Sunday. Although alive to tell the tale, it is with fear and sadness.