“It is a shame – especially in a country like South Africa where everyone has been up in arms bemoaning the scourge of violence against women – that South African women are now complicit and at times at the forefront of perpetuating violence against foreigners, particularly female immigrants.”
This was the cry from Sandra Bhebhe, a Zimbabwean mother of two who was forced out of her rented one bedroom home in Katlehong Zone 3, Mandela section, on Wednesday night following breakouts of violence against foreign nationals.
She and her family had to spend Thursday sheltered at the Katlehong North Police Station.
Bhebhe was among hundreds of foreign nationals who took refuge at the police station after being chased out of their homes during violent unrest in the township east of Johannesburg.
“The violence has been escalating for a while now. We have been living in fear, victimised by female landlords, all because we were born in a different country.
Burning of people’s belongings started in the squatter camps close to Zone 3. We could see that it was inching closer and closer and you can imagine the trauma.”
“At some point we were told that two foreign nationals had been killed and some of us even saw their bodies. It was at this point when without warning, landlords with foreign tenants also turned on us and started throwing our belongings into the streets and burning them with the aid of other community members,” said a teary Bhebhe.
She was seated at the dusty entrance to the police station, her two-year-old son and 5 year-old daughter huddled at her feet.
Foreign nationals displaced from their homes seek refuge at the police station. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press
Bhebhe went on to relay how she and her children had not eaten since Wednesday as they were forced to leave all their belongings and flee with only the clothes on their back.
“When we tried to go back to our rented room, we were threatened and our belongings had been tossed out onto the streets. We had no blankets, food, nothing. We haven’t had any food, nothing,” she said.
She said because of the trauma that came with seeing the burnt bodies of other foreign nationals and the ill-treatment she had received from her female landlord, she was considering going back to Zimbabwe.
“I am scared and the best thing right now, the only option is to go home,” she reiterated.
Malawian national Maleka Kaunda, who as a result of the attacks had sought refuge at the same police station told City Press that his shack, which he has lived in for over three years, had been burnt to the ground.
Hundreds of foreign nationals seeking refuge at the Katlehong North Police Station following their violent eviction from Mandela section by community members. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press
“This whole thing started on Monday. South African nationals, specifically those who hail from the Eastern Cape and Durban, who say they do not want foreign nationals in their country because they say we are taking away their jobs and their women started burning and assaulting foreign nationals,” he said.
“They not only stole our property but they burnt down my shack, a place where I lay my head. We were left with no option but to come and seek refuge at the police station because this is where we thought we would be safe.”
As he held his head in his hands and shook it in disbelief, Kaunda added: “I am left with nothing. The clothes you see me in now are all I have left.”
Police spokesperson Captain Kay Makhubela, who along with dozens of police officers, converged at the Katlehong North Police Station confirmed that the community had experienced troubling flare ups in violence during the night which had continued during the day.
“Large crowds of men carrying traditional weapons went into communities causing havoc which has led to such a large number of foreign nationals coming to seek refuge at this police station,” he said.
He could not confirm any casualties but said that representatives from the Mozambican Consulate General had visited the police station and were in the process of working together with the police to assist the affected parties.
Police arrest some of the alleged ring leaders in the violent attacks on foreign nationals in Katlehong. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press
George Mabaso, who identified himself as a Mozambican Consulate General representative, addressed the crowd and asked for his fellow nationals who needed assistance going back home to register their names.
He was also in the process of organising food and water for the affected people.
Zimbabweans and Malawians waited for aid from their embassies.
Having convened at the police station, the SA Police Service and Metro Police carried out coordinated raids and in total arrested over 30 men whom they said were the leaders of the unrest.
Police presence was maintained at high levels into the evening with the police expecting more retaliation against foreign nationals going into the night.