'We Zulus are going to beat you up'
By Thabiso Thakali
Moses ka Moyo has lived in Hillbrow for the past 11 years - working tirelessly as a community activist trying to bring change in the lives of average people, foreign and local.
His mission, with community workers, has been to create a sense of a real life in a place where few people would have wanted to live 10 years ago.
Never before has the Zimbabwean-born Ka Moyo felt as uncertain, or so in danger of his life, as he did last week.
Along with at least 400 other immigrants living in a block of flats in Hillbrow, he was one of the recipients of a door-to-door leaflet blitz.
The message was stark. Zimbabweans were urged to be careful because they were going to be "wiped out".
The letters read: "Zimbabweans we don't like you. You must go back to your country. You took everything that belongs to us, our jobs and our women... We Zulus are going to beat you up after the World Cup."
Although he was tempted to write off the faceless threats as crude, empty intimidation, Ka Moyo said that, for the first time ever, the message in the letter had stabbed straight through to his heart. He became unsure and afraid.
"I have a family... children and a wife," he said. "Receiving threats like this will have an impact on them. When the xenophobic outbreak happened the last time there was no warning. It gets to you as a person, even if you might want to dismiss it as scaremongering."
This week the 33-year-old, who also chairs the Hillbrow community policing forum, and residents of his building were out on the streets, taking the fight back to their faceless foes.
They embarked on a journey of their own, delivering pamphlets and messages from one building to another urging both locals and foreigners living the densely populated Hillbrow to report acts of xenophobia to the police.
They distributed flyers pleading for tolerance, preaching peace and providing the contact details of police officers, especially station commanders, who could be called in the event of an outbreak of violence.
They went into churches, businesses, flats, pubs and restaurants calling for people to speak out against attacks on foreigners.
"We have urged those who have security to ensure that their gates are always locked and that their closed-circuit television cameras are working at all times to pick up any suspicious movements," he said, walking into the dark alley of an abandoned building where hundreds of foreigners had found succour.
"The greatest threat is probably to the vulnerable like these who live in a building that has neither water supply nor electricity. But today we have to be prepared because we were warned.
"We have developed a number of counter-xenophobic programmes, including campaigns where we encourage people to get to know one another in the neighbourhood."
Normal resident meeting agendas have been amended to feature a new item - the need to forge relationships among locals and foreigners to fight injustices and disputes together.
"There is no doubt that in some of these meetings, whatever people's grievances or disputes, there is a tendency by some criminal elements to use the genuine frustrations of people to fuel xenophobic tensions," Ka Moyo said. "Nothing can be left to chance now, because the cost will be a human life."
In Joubert Park, Sydney Radebe, a street patroller, and his colleagues were just as busy. They were on high alert as they discussed how to react to any outbreak of xenophobia.
Their mission, like Ka Moyo's, was to unite the community, locals and foreigners, so that it could speak with a single voice.
"If there is a threat to anyone in the streets we want everybody to know who to contact and where to go," Radebe said. "Xenophobia is no different from crime; it is perpetuated by those who show little respect for human life.
"I joined the street patrols because I wanted to encourage people to take charge of their own neighbourhood. I want to see peace and stability reign where I live. I am a community worker."
He said although things had appeared to be calm amid reports of foreigners being attacked and their businesses looted in other parts of the country, it would be foolish to believe the battle was won.
"Here in Hillbrow and Joubert Park we never supported this idea of chasing away foreigners or blaming them for our problems," Radebe said.
"We stood up in 2008 when the xenophobic attacks were spreading like wild fire and this time we have risen up again beforehand by telling our community to reject this.
"We have begun a series of meetings with residents in our areas where we are giving out telephone numbers to reach us in an emergency."
In Yeoville, the familiar litany of complaints against foreigners was being passionately rolled out: they commit crimes; they hold jobs locals deserve; they steal ID books from locals; and they fraudulently marry South Africans without their knowledge.
Busisiwe Mthimkhulu, a Yeoville resident married to a Cameroonian, said that as a Christian she did not believe in killing or attacking people in their homes.
But, she said, something had to be done about the unwanted and bad immigrants who were "destroying the country".
"There are bad people among them," she said: "A South African may take your cellphone, but he won't kill you. A foreigner will take your phone and kill you."
Beyond that, she said, immigrants were also too easy to exploit.
"Business people hire foreigners, not because they work hard, but because they do the job for less money," she said.
"A South African demands his rights and will go on strike. Foreigners are afraid."
Mthimkhulu said that while many locals did not hate foreigners, they despised their actions, especially criminal ones.
For Ka Moyo, though, no amount of xenophobic threats will deter him from his bid to unite the people who live in his neighbourhood to fight for a better life with access to water, electricity and decent housing.
"There is no way I'm going to leave Hillbrow now after 11 years of living here," he said.