Joanna Jolly: Migrants tell of township tensions

Ahmed Dakane is a 31-year old Somali refugee. For the past four years he’s been living in the South African township of Zweletemba, on the outskirts of the town of Worcester in the wine-growing hills outside Cape Town.
Among the sprawling mess of tin huts and makeshift shelters he points out a pile of rubble that until recently was his shop and his livelihood.
Two months ago a mob of local South African youths surrounded and destroyed it, forcing Ahmed to flee for his life.
“All the community from this place, all South Africans, almost 1,000 people came to me,” he says, describing the night of violence.
“I called the police. When they came they said we can save your life but we can’t save your shop. So they took me and put me in the police station. I lost everything, even my clothes.”
Hunted and attacked
Locals living in Zweletemba say the attack was provoked by another Somali shopkeeper who shot dead a robber.

But when the angry mob looked for revenge, they didn’t just target one shopkeeper, but every foreigner living in the township.
Zimbabwean car mechanic, Norman Kajeni, was also hunted down and attacked.
“They come here, they robbed me, they took my equipment, they broke the car, they broke the house. They hit me. I had sixteen stitches in the head,” he says.
“They don’t like foreigners here. For the reasons we don’t know, because we have just come here to work to make a living.”

The attack in Zweletemba is not an isolated event.
Since the end of apartheid 14 years ago, Africans from all over the continent – both legal and illegal – have migrated to South Africa, attracted by its booming economy and apparent wealth.
There are no official figures of how many foreigners are in South Africa, but the South African Forced Migration Studies Programme estimates that between one and three million African migrants now live in the country, many of them from Zimbabwe.
The past few months have seen a marked increase in attacks by the local South African community on black migrants, causing some to describe the situation as the “new apartheid”.
‘New apartheid’
In Zweletemba, community workers like Sylvanus Dixon – himself from Sierra Leone – say high unemployment, poor infrastructure and few prospects for South Africa’s majority black population leads to jealousy of migrants.

“The problem is that people don’t want to accept the refugees or the foreigners. They don’t know who to blame for what has happened in South Africa – the apartheid, the struggling.
“They see all this influx of foreigners, especially the black foreigners, they think what is going on?” he says.
“They see foreigners with businesses and they don’t know how they got their money. They think maybe he got money from the government, they don’t know.
“That’s where the jealousy is coming from. That’s when the fear becomes xenophobia.”
Sylvanus Dixon believes that many South Africans also blame foreigners for the high levels of crime in the township.
‘We don’t want foreigners’
Not all South Africans are hostile to incomers. Ahmed Dakane is now rebuilding his shop with the help of a group of locals who are keen to see him re-start his business.
But there is also anger in the community. Watching Ahmed fix corrugated iron to the sides of his new shed is a teenage South African boy.
“We don’t need the foreigners here,” he says.
“They have a lot of businesses here, but they don’t do anything for Zweletemba They have a lot of shops but they don’t employ Zweletemba youth.”
His comments are echoed by a middle-aged South African woman who says foreigners charge too much for basic goods and don’t pay their workers enough.
“They must go, we don’t want the foreigners here. We don’t have jobs. The foreigners come here for our jobs.”
In the past few weeks community workers like Sylvanus Dixon have organised meetings between local and migrants in Zweletemba to ease tensions.
But Ahmed and the other foreigners who live here, believe that until the major issues of poverty and unemployment are solved, it’s only a matter of time before they become victims again.


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