Johannesburg - Foreign nationals in Diepsloot, Johannesburg, have vowed to stay put despite recent protests where some residents were demanding that those who were undocumented leave the area following the murder of a policeman.
Police also moved in to quell the unrest and to arrest illegal immigrants.
Angry residents blamed illegal migrants for the murder and other crimes committed in the area. Recent crime statistics showed that 62 murder cases and 162 cases of rape were reported in Diepsloot.
Community member Mogomotsi Morake said the killing of the police officer was a wake-up call to fight against crime and undocumented foreigners in the area.
“These people came to our area without proper documents and rob and kill people knowing they won’t be arrested because police can’t trace them, especially Zimbabweans. We are not fighting them, but we want them out of our area. People were robbed and killed by these illegal foreigners,” said Morake.
On Wednesday, when Sunday Independent visited the area shops belonging to the migrants were closed with some fearing being attacks.
Sharon Hadebe, a Zimbabwean who arrived in South Africa in 2004, stood next to her spaza shop and said she supported the residents’ fight against crime. But targeting every foreigner in the area was unfair, she said.
“To be honest, the people are right to fight against crime, and I also support them.
“The people who are killing and robbing people are also from Zimbabwe. But they must stop the crime and live like us look for opportunities, that is why we are running our small business so we can be able to send money back home,” she said.
The 47-year-old mother said she had been living in fear following the rampage last week. “I also had to run because these people were angry and were looking for any foreigner, they didn’t care whether you are a criminal or not. Sometimes I wish I could go back home but there’s nothing, that is why we are here. At least here in South Africa we can survive. Zimbabwe is bad,” added Hadebe, who makes R180 a day and manages to send R750 back home every month.
Her sister Rose Hadebe interjected: “I am tired of having to hide when there are attacks against foreigners. This is not a good life. The reason we are here is because we want to survive.”
Another street vendor, also a Zimbabwean - Mohazad Gama who came to South Africa in 2006 legally and has papers to prove it - said he wasn’t sure whether to leave South Africa or not.
“This is a sad situation because everyone depends on me, even back home. If I leave the country then I am going back home to starve. What brought me here is money to survive, and if the situation in Zimbabwe changes then I will go. Everyone wants to be at home,” said the 29-year-old.
A terrified Somalian, Addis Mohamed, implored Diepsloot residents to understand that migrants were in South Africa to make a living.
“I can’t even sleep at night because these people might launch another attack. They should deal with criminals and leave us. Some of us are here to work, not to offend anyone,” said Mohamed. Gauteng police spokesperson Mathapelo Peters said they would remain in the area until stability was restored.
She said: “157 illegal immigrants were arrested and 23 have since been released after verification of their status in the country by immigration officers. Those confirmed to be illegal have appeared in the Randburg Magistrate’s Court for a deportation decision,” said Peters.
The South African Human Rights Commission spokesperson Gushwell Brooks said documentation was required for non-national persons in and outside South Africa. “On that basis, the state requires documentation for cross-border migration and this should be adhered to and enforced. The commission is of the view that all established bodies, including the police and executive legs of the state such as the Department of Home Affairs should exercise their powers in terms of the law.
“Therefore, since documentation is required to be in South Africa, the responsible departments should ensure that the law is upheld,” said Brooks.
Home Affairs did not respond to questions sent by the Sunday Independent.