/ 13 May 2008

Alex residents seek shelter at police station after attacks

”I want to go home.” This is the appeal of a Zimbabwean woman who fought to prevent her little sister from being raped during xenophobic attacks on Monday night.

Willet Sibanda, who also has an eight-year-old daughter, received blankets and clothes at the Alexandra police station on Tuesday afternoon.

These are all she has left after xenophobic violence broke out on Sunday and she fell victim to it on Monday night.

Sibanda told how men she described as ”Zulus” from a hostel in Alexandra kicked down her door at about 10pm and told her to leave everything and get out.

”They insulted us. They screamed, they shouted and said ‘get out’ … They said leave everything. They demanded my cellphone and money … [they] touched me all over,” she said.

Sibanda described how the group of men told her to stand behind a curtain because they planned to rape her little sister. She refused and pleaded with the men to leave them alone.

”I said ‘rather shoot us’.”

After a while the men relented and allowed them to leave. They shouted at Sibanda and her sister to go back to Zimbabwe because they wanted her house and were tired of living in a hostel.

When the 28-year-old and her younger sister arrived at the police station they were told by officers that they would be taken to Doornfontein.

Sibanda, who is in South Africa illegally, said she did not want this but wanted to go home.

”I want to go back to my country, it’s not easy to stay in South Africa. Anywhere in South Africa, we are not safe … we came here for jobs and this is what we get,” she said.

Sibanda and dozens of other foreigners who were driven out of their homes by the attacks in the last two days remained at the police station seeking safety and shelter.

Gauteng Safety and Security minister Firoz Cachalia remained locked in a meeting at the police station while aid workers continued to distribute blankets and clothes to the displaced people.

‘Assault on democracy’

The attacks were condemned by political organisations on Tuesday.

African National Congress (ANC) spokesperson Tiyani Rikhotso said: ”Such acts can only take society backwards and open the wounds of racism and intolerance against which so many of our people fought.

”The killings in Atteridgeville earlier this year and recent attacks on Somalis and others are an attack not only on foreigners, but are an assault on the values of our democratic society.”

He said the ANC repeated its call to all state institutions and security agencies to apply the country’s immigration laws in a consistent and even-handed manner.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) urged the Johannesburg metropolitan council to provide shelter for those who had lost their homes or could not return home for fear of attack.

”We also urge the Department of Home Affairs to do more to assist immigrants,” said Cosatu Gauteng provincial secretary Siphiwe Mgcina. – Sapa