Fearful foreigners make their way home
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Johannesburg - As the sun rose on Thursday morning in Germiston, some of the more than 100 fearful foreigners who took refuge outside the local police station began cautiously heading back to the homes they fled on Wednesday night.
Men, women and children had small piles of the few things they could salvage in their haste to get away from impending doom.
The foreigners ran for their lives when rumours spread that locals were going to attack them, as was the case in Durban and Joburg’s CBD. Five people, including a 14-year-old, were killed during the violence that saw locals and foreigners squaring off in central Durban.
On Wednesday a text message warning foreigners to heed Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini’s call and return to their homes saw many closing up their business in central Joburg in fear of xenophobic attacks.
On Thursday morning up to 10 000 people were expected to join a march against xenophobia in Durban. A “peace bus” organised by activists Shaka Sisulu and Khaya Dlanga arrived in Durban with hundreds of people from Joburg who travelled overnight to join the march, which will be led by KwaZulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu and religious leaders.
In Germiston, some foreigners were seen walking back to their homes in the Makause informal settlement in the suburb of Primrose, carrying the blankets and boxes they used for makeshift beds to keep warm through the cold autumn night.
One of them was Costa Bila, a Mozambican who fled his shack together with his wife in fear of their lives.
Speaking to The Star on Thursday morning, Bila said infighting between locals and foreigners erupted in the squatter camps on Wednesday.
“The South Africans started fighting with the Somali shop owners and accused the Nigerians of selling drugs,” the distraught man said. “We decided to leave before they started fighting with us.”
Men, women and children were seen walking through the Ekurhuleni settlement to return to their shacks.
One woman took off her shoes and gave them to her young son, who lost his in their haste on Wednesday night.
Albert Mhlanga and his 6-year-old daughter Almera were among those making the journey home. Mhlanga wore about three jackets to keep the cold at bay, while Almera had a blanket draped over her small shoulders.
“We didn’t have time to take all of our stuff and just took what we needed. I’m scared to go back, but I can’t just leave behind all my stuff that I worked for.” he said.
Many of the foreigners who sought safety around the perimeters of the police station were still sleeping on the pavements near the entrance at about 7am.
But when it started to warm up and motorists began their early-morning commute, those who were still sleeping woke up.
A young woman lying on a cardboard box and draped in a blanket woke up and began clearing the litter around her.
Shivering from the cold, she took out a cracked mirror and comb, and began fixing her hair.
A man alongside her said he had an unpleasant night. Jeldo Mbanza of Mozambique said although he and his family of six were happy that they’d found a safe place to sleep, he spent the night worrying about their future in the country.
“We do not know what is going to happen to us, we are not safe from the locals who want to attack us.”
Mbanza said he would retrieve all his possessions from his shack in one of the squatter camps and flee to a neighbouring area.
The sombre spirit outside the police station was lifted by a Samaritan who arrived with his bakkie to transport the displaced people. Gray Mathabela, a businessman in the area who has been living in the country for more than 20 years and is originally from Mozambique, said he heard about the foreigners’ plight on the radio.
“I just came to help where I can. There’s no need for innocent people to suffer,” he said.
Police spokesman Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said no violence had been reported in the area.
“The first group of foreigners left at around midnight. The other group left this morning,” he said.