Gcina Ntsaluba reports from where Wally Serote wrote: “When I lie on your breast to rest, something tells me/You are bloody cruel./Alexandra, hell/What have you done to me?”
Mphakamiseni Ndlovu said he was proud of being part of an armed mob that terrorised, beat and killed dozens of foreign nationals in Alexandra township in Johannesburg, where since 11 May xenophobic attacks started and ignited a flame of unrest throughout South Africa.
Ndlovu, who runs a small informal business fixing cars on the side of the road in Sixth Avenue, said the storm had been brewing for a while before the first incident of the xenophobic attacks broke out on 11 May when an armed gang broke into foreign nationals’ shacks, evicting them and looting their belongings.
They killed two men, a South African and a Zimbabwean; two women were raped, one by four men, and about 60 people injured.
“I was there! We beat the shit out of them… We beat this Zimbabwean woman on her head with a knobkierrie with an iron fitting right here,” said Ndlovu pointing towards Madala Hostel, where the attacks are believed to have been organised from.
He said the attacks were planned by the community, which had become frustrated with crime and the high unemployment rate in the area.
“These people can’t just come here and start businesses and take our jobs. They should be working for us, not the other way around,” said Ndlovu.
He said about a week before the unrest broke out, a Mozambican man had been caught stealing and was sentenced to mob justice by the community. He was beaten up and left to die.
On the second day of the violence, 12 May, 56 more people were injured, one man was killed and two rape cases were reported to the police. Residents blocked off one of the main roads in a standoff with the police and about 1,000 people were displaced.
During the course of the following two days, door-to-door evictions on foreign nationals in Extension 7 were conducted; mobs burnt and looted the homes of the immigrants who had ran away.
Clashes between the police and the community continued on London Road and about 66 people were arrested.
In Madala Hostel, the base for organised attacks, community members were arranging themselves into small armies about to go out on a raid.
The hostel is home to hundreds of men and women from all corners of the country who came to Johannesburg in search for work and a better life. A resident from the hostel, Mbuso Khumalo, a South African citizen who witnessed the attacks said he did not believe that xenophobia was the main driving reason behind the evictions.
Khumalo said it was an excuse by the locals to steal and take over the shops and homes of foreign nationals who had fled.
“Those ones were tsotsies (thugs) because they stole from their own neighbours. The foreigners were living with them before just fine without any problems until that situation happened,” said Khumalo.
He said it was quite obvious that those people who stole from foreign nationals were not driven by xenophobia, but greed for material appliances such as Hi-Fi’s and TVs.
“If you don’t like someone, that is fine, but there is no need to steal from them,” explained Khumalo.
Another resident, Sibusiso Mntungwa, agrees with him and says he does not have a problem with foreign nationals living in Alex.
“There is nothing wrong with these people; they are just ordinary people like us who are trying to make a living.”
In townships throughout the country similar attacks have been carried out, but very little has been done to bring to book the perpetrators.
Gcina Ntsaluba’s report features in the Burnin’ and A-Lootin’ section of Chimurenga Vol. 16: The Chimurenga Chronic (available here).
Set in the week 18-24 May 2008, the Chronic, imagines the newspaper as a producer of time – a time-machine – which travels backwards and forwards, to place these events within a broader context and thereby to challenge the logic of emergencies and immediate needs that characterise contemporary African media.Buy the Chronic