'I'm living in a world of hate'

Published Jul 7, 2008


By Niels Posthumus

It's still dark when Aron Madjaya walks to the Primrose Gold Mine for the first time since May 16.

To reach the mine from the workers' hostel, he has to walk through a squatter camp situated in between.

Madjaya is on the morning shift. He starts at 5am.

He hides his face under a blue hat and behind the collar of his jacket. It's cold. He walks with about 200 other men. Going alone is far too dangerous.

Immediately after the xenophobic violence erupted, buses were hired to take the miners to work.

But since the management of Primrose Gold Mine has taken to offering some squatter camp residents "donations" to guarantee its workers' safety as they cross the informal settlement. Still, angry faces stare as they walk.

When he returns from work later that day Madjaya says: "Some men give us looks indicating they still wanted to do something to us." His voice is deep and he speaks slow.

"I wonder all the time: How would they see I am Mozambican?"

Madjaya came to South Africa in 1986. For 12 years he has lived peacefully among South Africans.

Then on May 18, dozens of squatter camp residents turned on the residents of the Primrose Gold Mines hostel. By this time, the xenophobic violence had spread from Alexandra through various areas in Johannesburg.

"They threw burning tyres over the fence and screamed 'get out, get out' to make us leave," he recalls.

He steps into his hostel room, which he shares with 19 other workers. Five of them are resting on their bunk beds. They are barely visible. It is pitch-black inside.

"They smashed the windows." He points at the small strip of glass just underneath the ceiling. A large part is covered, taking away the light. "And over here they tried to break through the wall."

The attackers didn't succeed in entering because the men inside fought back, throwing stones, remembers Morning Beje.

The Eastern Cape-born worker is in charge of the hostel's security.

The fight took less than an hour. Mozambican and South African mineworkers were injured.

After the fight, Madjaya ran to Primrose police station, just as all his compatriots did. Four days later he fled to his family in Mozambique.

He returned to South Africa on June 4. Many of his Mozambican colleagues did the same. Some have not come back because there is no money for transport, says Beje.

"It's not that they are scared, it's purely for financial reasons."

"They call us and we tell them that there are no problems anymore. That they are safe."

Beje looks away as he says this.

Just because no serious incidents may have happened recently doesn't mean the xenophobic feelings have disappeared.

A South African mineworker at Primrose Gold Mines was handed over to the police after he had written a letter in seTswana threatening his foreign colleagues.

"But after his release he immediately resigned and ran away," Beje hurries to say.

Still, life isn't the same as it was before May 18, admits Madjaya. Although it is getting better slowly.

Madjaya does not feel completely safe yet, he says.

But neither does he lie awake at night listening to suspicious sounds around the hostel.

He laughs: "Now when I sleep, I am really gone."

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