Durban - Congolese living and running businesses in Isipingo came under siege on Monday when locals attacked them in their shops and trashed the house they had run to for refuge.
The locals allegedly told the foreigners that King Goodwill Zwelithini had given them an ultimatum that “by April 1” they should have gone back to their home countries.
However, the Royal Household Trust’s chairman, Judge Jerome Ngwenya, denied that the actions of the locals were triggered by the king’s utterances, adding that the violence was started by foreigners fighting among themselves in Umlazi earlier.
Ngwenya said according to his knowledge, the violence started at a shopping complex in Umlazi where a foreigner shot dead another foreigner.
He said the trust maintained that the king did not say foreigners must be deported.
“He did not use the word ‘foreigners’. He did not say the foreigners must leave. He said izigilamkhuba (thugs) who illegally enter the country and continue with their criminal activities must go back to their countries.
“The king is not talking to foreigners who are legally here and are working … and who do not break the law.”
Police spokesman Thulani Zwane said that no case had been opened. “We urged the victims to come forward,” he said.
He could not link the Umlazi incident and the Isipingo one.
Congolese Raphaely Fikiri, 30, said the violence started between 10am and 11am when a crowd of people looted shops, chasing people away, and told them that foreigners must go.
Fikiri said when they ran to the house which they rented, police arrived but were too few to manage the hostile crowd.
“They came in one small car and they left. The looters then got a chance to enter the house. They damaged four cars, they threw stones,” he said.
Some helped themselves to car stereos and bags with personal belongings. A number of people suffered minor injuries to the head and body after being hit by stones.
The Congolese attacked at the house were at the Isipingo police station for their safety and could not go back to the house on Monday night.
Fikiri said their relationship with the locals had been peaceful since he had got there in 2006.
“People just took a chance because they heard the king saying all foreigners must move,” he said.
“I forgive the king because he does not know what he has said. We know that his wife is also a foreigner. She also can go back.”
Fikiri, who has been in the country legally for 10 years, said they were defenceless. He said most of them had hair salons and one of them was a car mechanic. Some of the four cars on the property had been brought in by owners for fixing.
Daniel Dunia, 33, said he was in his shop when he heard the locals singing in the streets: “Foreigners must go; the king said they must go, ‘makwerekwere awahambe’”.
Dunia said police who returned to the scene advised them to close down.
A vendor who saw the crowd said he heard them saying: “The foreigners must have gone back home by April 1.”
Human Rights Commission spokesman Isaac Mangena said they condemned the attack and called on communities to understand the rights of foreigners.
“They do have a right to stay in the country, to find employment and to start businesses. Law enforcement agencies must ensure that they arrest perpetrators and protect the foreigners,” said Mangena.
Community Safety MEC Willies Mchunu said the attack was “pure criminality that should be treated as such”. He said attacks on foreigners were undermining peaceful efforts to resolve such violence.
Independent violence monitor Mary de Haas said the locals were using “what the king had said as an excuse, but that is their responsibility … It gives them an excuse to do it and it is criminal mob behaviour.”
De Haas was also astonished that no arrests had been made, and at reports that police who first arrived at the scene went back to the station and returned later on.
During a moral regeneration event in Pongola two weeks ago, the king called for the government to send foreigners back home because they were changing the nature of South African society with their “amanikiniki” (shabby goods) and enjoying wealth that should have been for local people.
The HRC is investigating the king’s speech.