Agony and grief are visibly stamped on the faces of displaced foreign nationals at a temporary shelter in Ekurhuleni, a week after they fled their homes in Katlehong.
When News24 visited the Tsolo Community Hall in Katlehong on Tuesday, scores of homeless migrants sat around in groups, while young children chased after soccer balls. A few women plaited each other’s hair as others tried to get their toddlers to take a midday nap.
The DH Community Hall in Katlehong is also being used as a temporary shelter.
Xenophobic attacks led to 624 adults and 227 children fleeing their homes as violence and looting aimed at foreign nationals took a foothold in the suburb last week.
“My life if priceless. I am not prepared to die for nothing,” Zimbabwean national Lawrence Dondo told News24.
Dondo fled the backroom he was renting in Mandela Section in Katlehong last Wednesday after a mob ordered all foreigners to leave.
“I was with my wife and our one-year-old daughter when the mob arrived armed with guns, sticks and other dangerous weapons. They ordered us to leave Mandela Section for good because we are not wanted in Katlehong. We then fled to a nearby bush, where we were joined by other foreigners.
“We spent the night in the bush, praying for our safety. It was cold and wet, and there was nothing we could do because South Africa is not our home. The following day, my wife and child went to Leondale, where they are staying with her father,” he said, wiping away tears.
Malawian Aida Chisi at the centre in Katlehong with her daughter Precious. (Ntwaagae Seleka)
The following night, Dondo added, they moved to a safe place, also in the bush, where locals spotted them and launched an attack.
“Fortunately, the police arrived and opened fire on the group, chasing them away. On Friday morning, we moved to this hall. Here our movements are monitored for our safety.
“We are not allowed to walk far from this shelter, there is a fear that the locals will attack us again. We are prisoners here and we can’t go back to our homes in Mandela Section. As soon as the situation is calm, I will go back to Zimbabwe and return to South Africa in January next year, find a safer place in South Africa to stay and find employment,” he said.
Dondo’s friend and fellow Zimbabwean, Ephraim Yezo, is looking for his uncle, Obvious Matereke, who was last seen on Wednesday night.
Mob gave us three hours to vacate
“We had both returned home from work when a mob gave us three hours to vacate the area. While trying to grab our belongings, they opened fire with guns and we fled empty handed.
“That was the last time I saw my uncle. I don’t know whether he is alive or dead. His cellphone is off and I don’t know where he fled to. I hope he was not killed and is somewhere safe waiting to reconnect with me,” said Yezo.
Inside the hall, Aida Chisi from Malawi sits alone, holding her one-year-old daughter, Precious. She said September 4 will remain with her forever.
“We have lost everything, including our papers. I think we are safe here for now because the police are patrolling outside. I don’t know if my company will take me back again. I need to make money to feed my daughter.
“My husband has been informed that some of our colleagues don’t want to work with foreigners again. We are not wanted here in this country. I am afraid to go back to work because they will kill me,” Chisi said.
Harriet Phiri from Malawi told News24 she and her friends spent the night at Katlehong police station last Wednesday after their homes were attacked.
“We have lost everything we owned. They even stole all the items I had prepared to take home to Malawi to sell. I am not worried about everything I have lost because they can’t replace my life. My life has no price.
“All the things I have lost, I will replace them one day but my life is irreplaceable. I could have been killed for being a foreigner who has not committed any offence,” said Phiri.
Foreign nationals sleeping at a shelter in Katlehong. (Ntwaagae Seleka)
Ekurhuleni emergency services spokesperson William Ntladi said it was offering shelter, food, water, security and medical attention to the displaced.
Ntladi said Home Affairs officials, various embassies, Doctors Without Borders, the International Organisation for Migration, local paramedics, police and Ekurhuleni Metro Police Department have joined hands to assist them.
He added some of them were being assisted with documentation to return back to their countries.
“We are assisting with everything we can, and there are some that we have taken to hospital for medical attention upon inspection by our paramedics,” said Ntladi.