BuaNews, 15 May 2008

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

"I was lucky to escape the violent attacks unharmed. I now want to go home to Maputo before I am brutally killed," said 23-year-old Jacinto Makwakwa, a Mozambique immigrant in South Africa. Ms Jacinto Makwakwa was violently forced to flee her home by angry mobs as part of the ongoing violent attacks on foreigners in Alexandra, a township north-east of Johannesburg. Three foreigners have reportedly been killed since the attacks, which are being called xenophobia-motivated, broke out in the township on Sunday. The 100-strong crowd, made up of mostly Zimbabwean and Mozambican nationals, have been camped at the township police station, fearing for their lives if they leave the safety of the police's presence. The self-employed hairstylist, Ms Makwakwa described the situation in the area as tense. However, she said they appreciated the support they were receiving from the South African government. "Since I left my house in Extension 19 on Monday, the South African government has been providing us with food and protection at the station. "I left all my belongings behind in my house and now all I can think about is going home," she told BuaNews. On Wednesday, Finance MEC Paul Mashatile and MEC for Community Safety Firoz Cachalia visited the area to get first hand information about the situation and to help restore calm. MEC Mashatile, who had expressed concern at the escalating violence, called on communities to work together. He cautioned the community to beware criminal elements that were encouraging the attacks. Mr Cachalia assured the residents that he would ensure a strong police presence was kept in the area. Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has called on South Africans to stand up against the attacks, saying she was disturbed by the ongoing violence in which many people have been hurt. Leaders from various sectors in the country have condemned the attacks. The Red Cross on Wednesday helped to register the displaced foreigners camped at the police station so they can provide them with temporary shelter. SA Red Cross Disaster Relief representative, Mathews Ntamota told BuaNews: "We are assessing the situation, but at the same time handing out food parcels, blankets and clothing," Mozambican national, Anton Machaela, 24, said they were grateful for the support they had received from the government and non-governmental organisations. The skilled contract worker decided to flee his home on 4th Avenue after he heard gun shots being fired from an angry mob, who were shouting "Mozambicans and Zimbabweans go back to your respective homes." He said the South African residents accused them of working for less money, and therefore being more employable. "They could have held a meeting with us to address their concerns peacefully." South African resident James Hatlane, 26, said it was not only foreigners who feared for their lives. Mr Hatlane, who had been mistaken for a foreigner and forced to leave his home, had ensured his family were safe by taking them to family in Soweto. Representing the Zimbabwean Diaspora Forum, Norah Tapiwa urged the Department of Housing to erect houses for the foreigners in an area outside the township. Ms Alice Ndlovu, 32, from Zimbabwe said that she had managed to escape from an angry mob who told her to go home and vote in her country's elections. "They accused us of committing criminal activities and stealing their jobs, they looted my house. I will never live in this township again," she said. There have been growing concerns that the attacks on foreigners will spread to other townships. Meanwhile, further violence broke out in Diepsloot, north of Johannesburg last night, leaving two people dead and several injured. Provincial police spokesperson Director Govindsamy Mariemuthoo told BuaNews that at this stage they could not confirm if the attacks were xenophobic and they were still investigating. He said while the police would continue to monitor the area, the situation had returned to normal on Thursday morning. The police have been instructed to arrest anyone engaged in acts of violence.