/ 17 April 2015

Xenophobia: Why are South Africans behaving in this manner?

Mangistu Alamrl standing in front of one of his containers. His shop was looted and goods taken.
Mangistu Alamrl standing in front of one of his containers. His shop was looted and goods taken.

Foreign nationals in the townships of Greater Edendale in Pietermaritzburg have closed their shops as xenophobic attacks spread. Shops were looted during the day and again at night on Wednesday.

An Ethiopian shop owner who immigrated to South Africa in 2009 is one of the victims who had his goods stolen. He had no choice but to close his shop and vacate Imbali Unit 14 township with his siblings. Mangistu Almarl, 38, said he fled the war between Ethiopia and Somalia hoping he could operate his spaza shop in South Africa. “I don’t want any fights,” he says, “but what is happening here is worse than what is happening in Ethiopia. I am scared, and if I would be offered a chance to go back to Ethiopia today, I will do so. I thought war activities in my country were the worst, but what I have seen on television is beyond the worst. Why are South Africans behaving in this manner?”

Xenophobic attacks started in Durban in Isipingo last week. Since then the attacks have escalated to other areas in Durban, to Pietermaritzburg and Johannesburg. Almarl says he has four brothers in hiding in a flat in town. 

“They broke in my shop and took everything on Wednesday night after there had been attacks in town. I saw it in the morning. I had no choice but to close the shop. We have been tipped off that they were about to attack us and we closed the shops … People are different, some are kind to us and some treat us like animals. They accuse us of selling goods at a cheaper price than their prices, but the difference is not that much. We are aware that we are victims of abuse and we have learned to live with it, but these attacks are frightening,” said Almarl. 

Another Ethiopian, Abraham Kabedu, 42, said his three years in Dambuza had been good and bad. He said people were welcoming at first, but the issue of comparing prices and fights over business started creeping in, causing relationships to sour between him and some resident shop owners. 

“On Wednesday, I received a call about the attacks that were happening in town and I was overwhelmed by fear. I thought that I am safe since I’m far away from town. Then I started receiving news that some of the shops were vandalized in other parts of Greater Edendale, including Imbali townships. Fortunately, I came alone. I have no family and if I die, I will die alone but I will prefer to die in my own country,” said Kabedu. 

“I don’t want any war, I want peace and unity. What is the reward of attacking a human being who has the same skin color as you? Why are the South Africans attacking us? What have we done? We are not here to fight; we came here for a better life,” he said.

In France, Phase Two Township, five shops owned by foreign nationals were looted and most of the shops have closed. In Dambuza, Aaron tuck-shop owned by a foreign national was looted. It was vandalized on Wednesday night. Foreign nationals evacuated the surrounding townships of Greater Edendale on Wednesday night. 

The Dambuza township ward councilor Mtuza Mkhize condemned the looting, saying that it was barbaric and unnecessary. He expressed his concerns at a meeting in Dambuza Hall on Thursday, where he asked residents to act against the attacks. The hall was packed with youth and residents of the area. 

Colonel Thulani Zwane of the KwaZulu Natal Media Centre said police are monitoring all areas that have been reported as hotspots of xenophobic attacks since Wednesday.

– See more at: http://www.groundup.org.za/article/living-constant…

This article was originally published on GroundUp.