MIGRANTS MULL RETURN TO SOUTH AFRICAN TOWNSHIPS AS D-DAY LOOMS

ANC Daily News Briefing/Sapa, 8 August 2008

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The African migrants who, like 21-year-old Fortune from Zimbabwe, have poured into the city known in Zulu as the Place of Gold over the past decade face an agonizing choice in the coming week. They must reintegrate into the townships and squatter camps they fled in mid-May when their South African neighbours began attacking them - or return home to the poverty and/or conflict they left behind in their countries of origin. The two-week orgy of xenophobic violence that swept South Africa in May, leaving at least 62 people dead and hundreds injured, marked one of the darkest hours in the country's 14-year democracy. Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, Malawians, Congolese, Nigerians and other Africans scooped up their children and ran from mobs with little more than the clothes on their back. Many were so traumatized by the violence they had witnessed or experienced they rushed to board buses and trains out of South Africa. The rest, close to 40,000 at one point, piled into police stations, churches and community halls, from where most were later bundled off to government-run camps. Now, barely three months later, the government is shutting down the shelters, leaving around 7,000 people facing an uncertain future. In Gauteng province, where most of the violence took place in and around Johannesburg, six camps holding around 3,000 people are due to close by August 15. Refugees in Western Cape province, where Cape Town is situated, have a few extra weeks to plot their next move, with authorities there saying they hope to empty over 40 shelters by September 3. For Fortune, removal from Rand Airport refugee camp in east Johannesburg means the end of his protection from youths who have vowed to finish off "amakwerekwere" (foreigners). "It is difficult for me to go back (to nearby Primrose squatter camp)," says the lanky security guard, who hopped the border illegally into South Africa to escape Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's disastrous policies. Returning to Zimbabwe in the absence of a change in government is not an option, says Fortune. Going back to Primrose is nearly as unpalatable. "They will kill me," he says. Dramatic a scenario as that may sound, it's not unrealistic. In Ramaphosa squatter camp, where the sadly iconic image of Mozambique's Ernesto Nhamuave burning to death was captured, another Mozambican who returned home recently to his South African wife was dragged from his shack and hacked to death. Analysts say the unbridled influx of migrants from poorer countries into Africa's biggest economy since the end of apartheid, including an estimated between one and three million Zimbabweans, is causing a "poor-on-poor violence" tussle over scarce resources. One in four in South Africa is officially jobless, with unions putting the real figure at closer to 40 per cent. South Africans accuse undocumented foreigners of aggravating their plight by working for less pay. While most agree that the refugee shelters should not become a permanent fixture, activists accuse the government of not doing enough to pave the way for the reintegration of migrants or to prepare them for their return. "People are really confused. They don't know where to go," says Partson Madzimure, a Zimbabwean-trained psychology lecturer who organizes free classes for kids and adults at Rand Airport. But the government has to tread carefully to avoid being perceived as doing more for the migrants than needy locals. Allegations that foreigners leapfrogged South Africans on the waiting list for government housing was what ignited the violence in Alexandra township, north of Johannesburg, on May 11. "We're encouraging people to reintegrate themselves," Russell McGregor, the Gauteng government's media liaison officer said. Where migrants were unwelcome, in places like Ramaphosa, "the political leadership and the councils will try to integrate them into other areas," he said. Meanwhile, migrants who return to the scene of May's crime have their own set of resentments to contend with. Domingo Mawai, a Mozambican-born father of four, is back selling fruit and vegetables through a mesh screen in a tiny street-side stall in Alexandra. Every day, he sees the people who used the cover provided by the xenophobic violence to make off with 8,000 rand (1,000 dollars) worth of stock, his fridge, TV, DVD player, blankets and stove. "One of them came to the shop recently to ask forgiveness," he notes. Nobody, as yet, has offered to return his property.