Thuli Ndlovu doesn’t buy the claim of fellow South African, Brandon Huntley, the country’s first-known ”crime refugee”, that he was singled out by criminals because he was white.
Canada’s refugee authorities sensationally granted Huntley’s refugee status in August after accepting his assertion that he was marked by criminals in South Africa because of his skin colour and that the South African state was unwilling or unable to protect him.
Cape Town native Huntley, 31, applied for refugee status last year after his work permit ran out. Huntley said he had been mugged and stabbed during several attempted robberies and been called a ”white dog” or ”settler” by his ”African South African” attackers.
The immigration and refugee board found ”clear and convincing proof” that Huntley was a ”victim of his race rather than a victim of criminality” and of an ”indifference and inability, or unwillingness, of the government and security forces to protect white South Africans from persecution by African South Africans.”
The ruling has caused a firestorm of controversy in South Africa, which has a well-documented violent crime problem, but where most of the victims are not whites, but poor blacks, whose stories go unnoticed.
Like Thuli, a 36-year-old tour guide and social worker from Soweto township outside Johannesburg. ”First it was my auntie,” she says, listing off the victims of violent crime in her family.
Thuli’s aunt used to run a shebeen (unlicensed tavern) from her home in eastern Johannesburg. It was there that Makhosi was gunned down in front of her two children and patrons in the early hours of one Sunday morning in 2000.
”I think they were trying to rob here but something went wrong and they shot her,” Thuli says.
The family were still mourning Makhosi, when four months later, on a Lenten Good Friday, they were back at the graveside, burying Thuli’s brother.
Thokozani Ndlovu, 24, was attacked by two unknown men while returning home to his pregnant fiancÃ© in Soweto from his job in a bottle shop one evening.
They took his cellphone and wallet and, when he fought back, pumped his head, chest and stomach with bullets. After his death, his fiancÃ© suffered a miscarriage.
And then there was Thuli’s own brush with death in 1998 when she was walking from the bus to her backyard home in another part of Soweto.
After being robbed at gunpoint of her phone, money, watch, ring, even earrings, she was shot twice for trying to get away, fearing the next stage was rape.
After six months in hospital she was back on her feet, but one bullet is still lodged in her spine and beeps when she passes through metal detectors. No one was ever arrested in connection with the murders. ”They said they didn’t have any lead,” she said.
Understandably, Thuli disagrees with Huntley’s claim that whites are being singled out by criminals.
”They want what you have, whether you’re what or black. It’s about unemployment (of 27,9%),” she says with a resigned air.
The South African government said it was ”disgusted” at the ruling which the ruling African National Congress called ”racist.” Human rights groups, including the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) and South African Human Rights Commission, also rubbished Huntley’s claims of persecution.
”While South Africa is a very violent society the vast majority of the victims of violent crime are black,” SAIRR noted.
Whites, who make up 9% of the population of 49,3-million, are generally safer because they can afford to pay for private security, SAIRR deputy president Frans Cronje said, referring to the legions of private security guards that watch over the homes of the wealthy.
While a racial motive was sometimes detected in crimes, there was no ”general pattern of racial attacks on white South Africans by black South Africans,” SAIRR said.
And the racism, as the CEO of the Human Rights Commission Tseliso Thipanyane points out, cuts both ways.
Unions representing white farmers in South Africa allege a racial motive to the high number of violent farm attacks, but a number of attacks by trigger-happy white farmers on farmworkers or community members in recent years have also smacked of racism.
Popular reaction continued to pour in to radio phone-in programmes and internet sites Wednesday, with most condemning Huntley but a few saluting him for highlighting the crime scourge.
”I’ve opened people’s eyes,” Huntley told Johannesburg’s The Star newspaper.–Sapa