Pretoria News, 18 April 2008

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Fighting back tears, a Mozambican mother has described the terror of being forced to flee for her life as xenophobic thugs hunted her and her infant children. Rose Thomo, her toddler sons Ronald (1) and Van (3) along with her husband Bongani, were chased from their shack in Mamelodi East's Phomolong informal settlement. The family received warnings early in the week that they would be attacked, and were among hundreds of immigrants hunted and hounded out of their homes during xenophobic violence which has been rife in the township over the past four days. Violence continued yesterday as groups of thugs searched for more foreigners, looting and setting alight shacks and spaza shops abandoned by immigrants who have fled. Huddled around the meagre belongings they and other immigrants escaped with on the floor of Stanza Bopape Community Centre, the Thomo family described their ordeal and told how they were helped by neighbours to flee from the crowds before they scattered. "I was terrified. I did not know why they were coming to us. We have lived here for years and have never hurt anyone," said Rose Thomo. Thomo had earlier telephoned her husband pleading with him to come home. She said the first time the family knew they were in real danger was when neighbours began calling for them to hide. "Stuffing clothes into suitcases the four ran to a neighbour's house and hid in the bedroom. We just sat on the bed and waited. "We did not know what was going to happen. "We could hear people screaming for us outside and pulling our house apart. They sounded like wild animals," she said. Sneaking out of hiding, the family ran when they heard people shouting that they were escaping. In the chaos, Thomo and her children were separated from her husband. Alone she ran towards a nearby dumping site, crossing a railway line before running into a marshy area. "I just kept praying and praying. I held onto my children tightly. I could hear people in the bushes. I was hiding in the water and mud. "I kept on telling my babies to be quiet. I was so scared that they would cry and that the men would find us," she said. The following morning Thomo emerged with her children from their hiding spot and together with her husband, who was hiding close by, made their way to Stanza Bopape Community Centre. There they were met by dozens of other terrified immigrants. Bongani Thomo said he had never been so scared in his life. "I was petrified that my wife and children would die. "When we split up I thought they were dead. We have lost everything. We have nothing left. Everything that I have ever owned was destroyed. My children have no clothes. We cannot feed our babies," he said in despair. Describing a similar ordeal, another Mozambican, Zephania Simango, said he had hidden in thick bushes all night while his attackers looked for him. He was chased from his spaza shop which was looted and gutted. "I could hear them calling me. I could hear them telling me that they were going to kill me," he said. Simango said he had spent the night escaping to the community centre. "It was too dangerous to move in the day so I hid until it was night. I would move to a bushy area and hide for a while. "I could hear people looking for me. I would move again when it was quiet and then hide when I heard people," he said. He said he had come to South Africa to create a better life for himself. I used to have South Africans work for me, but now that my shop is destroyed there is no more work," he said. Tshwane Metro Police spokesperson William Baloyi said another four shacks were destroyed yesterday. "The area is volatile and not showing any signs of normalising." Responding to allegations that immigrants were being hunted down, Baloyi said it was abhorrent. "We cannot and will not allow people to hunt other people down like animals. This must and will be stopped," he said.