Residents of Alexandra’s RDP houses have reacted to menacing calls for foreigners to vacate RDP houses in the township within seven days with a mixture of fear and nonchalance.
Last weekend groups of residents, some co-ordinating their movements by phone, moved around extensions seven, nine and 10 handing out flyers and putting up posters warning foreigners living in RDP houses to vacate within seven days or risk “being pushed like animals or aliens”.
“The resident [sic] of Alexandra doesn’t want to revoke [presumably “revive” is meant] xenophobia, unless you give the cause to do so,” the flyers read.
Anecdotes of exactly when the leaflets surfaced differ. Some residents say youths distributing them last Friday also barricaded streets with burning tyres in extension 10, whereas others in the same section say they were being shoved under doors last Saturday evening.
It is not clear how organised the groups are, although some reports have mentioned that a group calling itself the Alexandra Bonafides has claimed responsibility.
The crude pamphlets specifically mention foreigners who own RDP houses as the targets. But a Zimbabwean resident told the Mail & Guardian that every foreigner appeared to be under fire, whether living in a house or renting an adjoining room. Several single-storey houses in the Far East Bank were flanked by smaller structures occupied by tenants.
The man, a resident of extension seven who asked not to be named, said he was given a flyer on Sunday evening before being coerced into an interrogation about his living situation. “I told them to speak to my landlord, as I am just a tenant here,” he said.
He told the M&G that he was playing it by ear, as he had done in 2008 when xenophobic violence engulfed the township. “There’s no cause for panic just yet, but what I’m afraid of is the possibility of physical violence.”
Other residents said they were unsure how to regard the census officials, as they felt some people could use the census as a way of sourcing information about where foreigners are located.
“We aren’t against the census,” said Tswaleka Mathebula. “We just think that some people could hijack the process. Some people came here asking my daughter questions. When she told them her surname was Mathebula, they said: ‘Ja, we know you Mathebulas and Chikanes, you’re all from Maputo.’
“When I heard this, I came out and told them not to talk that shit here. We are from Giyani [in Limpopo province] and I’ve got all the papers for this house and every other document they could need. I didn’t even ask for this house, I got it because they were building a bridge across Stjwetla [an informal settlement in Alexandra], where I lived for 10 years.”
Mathebula, who lives in an RDP house with her three children and her husband, has two tenants in her yard, one from Zimbabwe.
She said that although some people had acquired their houses corruptly, the right approach was to take such grievances to the department of housing or the Alexandra Renewal Project. “They mustn’t come and tell us that every Shangaan-speaking person is from Maputo.”
Although most people who own RDP houses are South Africans, the housing policy does not preclude people with permanent-residence from qualifying for state housing.
The Gauteng minister for local government and housing, Humphrey Mmemezi, has called for people to provide evidence of the corruption they believe is running rampant in the Alexandra Renewal Project, which built the RDP houses.
“If we had evidence of that we would have prosecuted,” said the minister’s spokesperson, Motsamai Motlhaolwa. “The minister has been on record several times saying that people must come to us with evidence. Nobody must be forced to pay for an RDP house as they are for the poor.”
A South African man who rents to a Malawian tenant, Phetole Rakgwahla, said he would not protect his tenant if protests turn violent.
“Our brothers don’t have houses and we don’t know how foreigners got them,” Rakgwahla said, pointing to an RDP house. “The allocation process has gone completely haywire. We can live peacefully with one another but they mustn’t think they are here forever.”
Although the township was calm on Thursday, a community meeting was planned at the corner of 2nd Avenue and John Brand Street.
Kwanele Sosibo is the Eugene Saldanha fellow in social justice and inequality reporting supported by CAF Africa