A young Zimbabwean shoe maker worries there will be further attacks on foreigners, but has returned to his Durban house anyway
Blessing Sererie is on edge as he stands outside his rented three-roomed house in Welbedacht in Chatsworth, Durban.
Sererie, a 35-year-old shoe maker from Harare, has just returned home after two weeks in a refugee camp nearby.
He’s visibly nervous, not only because of the potential of another attack in Welbedacht Unit A, the border of which is only 400m up the steep hill from his house, but about his family’s future.
“I’m happy to be back home, but I’m scared,” says Sererie, who came to South Africa eight years ago. After two years of living in a back room in the “Indian houses” in Chatsworth, Sererie moved to Welbedacht, a periurban area with a mix of Indian and African residents living in shacks and formal houses.
Sererie pays a “Zulu guy” R800 a month in rent. The house is the only home his son Brandon (6), who was born at the nearby RK Khan Hospital, has known.
Brandon and Masigan Perumal (13) and his brother Vernon (11) are shooed out of the tiny lounge where they have been playing all morning. The Perumal brothers live across the street and are in and out of the Sererie house. The trio tear out of the doorway like a three legged whirlwind and head for the Perumals across the street.
Sererie wants to know what the risk is in doing an interview. He’s nervous the mob that swept through Unit A – they were stopped by police and locals within sight of his house – might read it and come back to finish the job.
Sererie made his own way home after hearing that the attackers had been arrested. There’s no guarantee of safety; he simply left the camp and took a taxi home after getting the all clear from his neighbours.
Sererie overcomes his fear and keeps talking.
The xenophobia couldn’t have come at a worse time for him. The highly skilled shoe maker had just quit his job at a factory in Clairwood and ploughed his savings into equipment to make his own range of cloth and leather men’s and women’s sneakers and casual shoes.
“To tell you the truth, I spent everything I had saved, about R6 000, on equipment for making shoes. I bought materials. I was going nicely when this happened. It’s finished me,” says Sererie.
“I sold the glue heater, sewing machine and all the shoes I had made. I couldn’t leave it here and I wasn’t working. My brother and his wife and child arrived two days before it started. They came with nothing. I had to send them to Pietermaritzburg to family, where they were safe. I had to buy their food.”
Sererie’s headache doesn’t end there.
Although he still has a home, the landlord wants his rent, and the fruit and cigarettes Sererie was selling at the refugee camp only made him pocket change.
Sererie’s wife, Madeline, is off looking for any work she can find around Chatsworth. Sererie’s hopes of getting a shoe-factory job to generate the capital to buy machinery – he spent Thursday hunting for a job in Clairwood after arriving home on Wednesday – aren’t good.
“They know me. I’ve worked all over. They don’t want to give me a job because I want good money. I’m a top shoe maker, but they will take a cheaper guy,” he says.
Sererie rummages through the pile of bags and ironed clothes – the unplastered lounge is as upside down as his life – and pulls out leather sneaker uppers he cut that are waiting to be soled. And sold.
Sererie throws a pile of shoe patterns on to the round table covered with gold cloth in the middle of the room, pushing a dish of seashells to the side. They are joined by women’s cloth espadrilles, also unfinished.
“There are people with the machines, but I need to go see them with money in my hand. I need to make a plan. We have enough food, I bought groceries for the month and they are still here. I need to pay the rent and work,” he says.
Sererie says while he wanted to take one of the several dozen buses that left Chatsworth for Harare, it was easier to survive here despite the danger.
“In Harare, there’s nothing. Here we have a house. My son was born here. We have a life. We have to find a way to start again.”
Outside the house, a little girl walks down the narrow street with a handful of sweets. She greets Brandon, Masigan and Vernon in isiZulu.
The three respond with the fluidity of first language speakers, giggling as they try to convince her to hand over her sweets. She skips off. The three boys continue to converse in isiZulu, segueing into English when they reach the Perumal house.
Trudy Perumal is happy to see the Sererie family back. They’ve been neighbours since she, her sons and her sister Samantha moved in five years ago.
“We missed them,” says the 32-year-old housewife. “We’ve never had a problem. They’re very nice people. This thing [xenophobia] is very bad. It’s not right. You can’t do that to people.”
Perumal also feared being attacked during the xenophobic unrest.
“We are all scared. You don’t know what’s going to happen ... if you’re next.
“You don’t know.”