'We just want to work'

On a municipal field with its rugby posts forgotten, three men hammered tent pegs in the ground as groups of foreign African nationals sat huddled together; their mattresses, pots, groceries and clothes in bundles around them.

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In a resurgence of the xenophobic attacks that made headlines in 2008, a reported 3 000 foreigners, mostly Zimbabweans, were driven from their homes in the Western Cape’s De Doorns informal settlements on Tuesday.

The violence had died down by Wednesday, but evidence of the flare-up was everywhere. Strips of land lay strewn with the debris of destroyed shacks. Locals said they weren’t worried about their property being touched—the attacks had been methodical and carefully targeted, they said.

And as authorities and community leaders remained locked in meetings, it proved to be a case of one group’s word against another as to the cause of the attacks.

Locals said that the foreigners, many of them recent arrivals, were working for less than minimum wage on the wine farms that line the N1 in the lush Hex River Valley. But farmers, who arrived in vans to take their employees to safety, insisted this was not the case—and their workers appeared to agree. “We just want to work,” said one man.

Local NGO worker Braam Hanekom said foreigners were being exploited and called for increased government intervention. “We feel that the police watched and facilitated an illegal eviction,” he said.—Additional reporting by Yazeed Kamaldien

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay is the editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian. She grew up in Laudium, Pretoria, learned her trade at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, spent a spell in Cape Town as an online journalist, and now loves living in Jozi. Her interests are broad but include a focus on politics and multi-platform storytelling. Read more from Verashni Pillay


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