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African migrants seek refuge amidst xenophobic attacks in South Africa5 min read

At least 12 people have been killed by a surge of anti-foreigner violence in the country’s financial capital last week

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African migrants seek refuge amidst xenophobic attacks in South Africa
People gather outside the D H Williams Hall in Johannesburg's Katlehong township, on September 09, 2019 where more than 500 people, mostly Mozambican nationals, are hosted after being displaced due to a new wave of anti-foreigner violence that hit South Africa's financial capital. -Michele Spatari / AFP

Beverlyn Nyamakwenje was fast asleep in her home in the east Johannesburg township of Katlehong when she was woken by gunshots.

Instructed by her panicked father, the 19-year old Zimbabwean grabbed a few belongings and fled with him to a police station for safety.

“We left our bags,” Nyamakwenje said. “We only took two minutes.”

Nyamakwenje is one of around 850 people who have taken refuge in halls set up for foreigners displaced by xenophobic violence in the Joburg region, a municipal spokesman said.

The door and windows of her little home have been smashed and the rooms wrecked. Everything inside has been stolen or burnt.

She and her father are holed up in Katlehong’s Tsolo community hall, alongside 250 Zimbabweans and Malawians.

More than 500 Mozambicans have been placed in a hall nearby.

READ: Nigeria plans to repatriate 600 citizens from South Africa

African migrants seek refuge amidst xenophobic attacks in South Africa
A woman holds a food plate at the Tsolo Community Hall in Johannesburg’s Katlehong township, on September 9, 2019, where around 250 people, mostly Zimbabwean and Malawian nationals, are hosted after being displaced due to a new wave of anti-foreigner violence that hit South Africa’s financial capital. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

“It happened so fast,” said Nyamakwenje on Monday, her fourth day at the shelter. “I only got one pair of shoes and two of my jeans.”

At least 12 people have been killed by a surge of anti-foreigner violence in the country’s financial capital last week.

South Africa is a major destination for economic migrants from neighbouring countries.

They have often borne the brunt of anger from locals frustrated over jobs. 

But the latest surge of attacks on businesses and homes has worried other African countries. Nigeria is flying hundreds of its citizens home. 

For now, Nyamakwenje sits on a plastic chair in the dimly-lit hallway, walls lined with blankets and hurriedly packed suitcases. Baby cries echoed around her. 

Outside, excited children clambered around municipal pick-up trucks. Women weaved each others hair. Boys kicked lazily at a football.

Most live in the area, but they are too frightened to return home.

Violence flared up again on Sunday, breaking the tentative calm that returned to Johannesburg by the end of last week.

“In the news, they are saying that the fighting was finished but…. they are fighting with us, even today,” said Poronkie, a 47-year old plumber from Zimbabwe afraid to give his full name.

African migrants seek refuge amidst xenophobic attacks in South Africa
People gather at the Tsolo Community Hall in Johannesburg’s Katlehong township, on September 9, 2019, where around 250 people, mostly Zimbabwean and Malawian nationals, are hosted after being displaced due to a new wave of anti-foreigner violence that hit South Africa’s financial capital. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

READ: Police arrests several shop looters in South Africa

Another two people were killed in the attacks on Sunday, with hundreds of shops and properties looted, and more than 600 people arrested.

“I am homeless,” Poronkie told reporters.

“They burnt everything that belonged to me. I thank God that I am still alive.”

‘We are not doing anything’-

Millions of economic migrants live in South Africa — the continent’s second-largest economy — though official numbers are unclear as most are undocumented.

In poor districts, many South Africans scapegoat foreigners for the limited progress made by the majority black population since apartheid ended in 1994.

“The South Africans don’t want us anymore and they are executing us very brutally,” said Joseph Mozorodze, 25, a Zimbabwean builder who has worked in Johannesburg for several years.

“We are not doing anything, we are just looking for jobs to earn money.”

Xenophobic attacks are not uncommon, especially for migrants working in low-skilled labour.

Municipal police spokesman William Ntladi told reporters he had dealt with similar situations during his career.

Anti-foreigner violence left 62 people dead in 2008, while seven were killed in attacks in Johannesburg and Durban in 2015.

“The number we have now is less than the previous one,” said Ntladi. “(In 2015) we had to use many municipal facilities to accomodate them.”

Community leaders were working to ease tensions between groups and help reintegrate the displaced, he said.

Aid organisations are providing meals and donations.

‘Worried about my life’ –

John Chirwa did not have high hopes.

Since the violence broke out, the 27-year-old Malawian security guard has been too nervous to leave his wife and newborn alone at night.

They sleep at the shelter while he goes to work.

African migrants seek refuge amidst xenophobic attacks in South Africa
A partially destroyed shop is seen in Johannesburg’s Malvern suburb, on September 09, 2019, after South Africa’s financial capital was hit by a new wave of night violence. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

“I was not feeling good, I couldn’t work as usual,” said Chirwa, picking at a plate of cornmeal and chicken before his night shift. 

“This violence is not just violence. It’s called xenophobia. People are getting killed.”

He toyed with the possibility of returning to his country, like many displaced.

“If I insist on staying maybe I’m going to lose my life,” said Harry Mrevo, also from Malawi, whose home was destroyed by mobs.

“So I’m waiting to go home if they provide transport.”

The embassies of Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique have liaised with the International Organization for Migration (OIM) to carry out voluntary repatriations.

Nigeria’s consul also announced plans to fly back around 600 citizens over the course of this week.

READ: South Africa vows to tackle xenophobic attacks against foreigners

At Tsolo, three suited Zimbabwean diplomats arrived in an SUV to take names and telephone numbers.

“I’m worried about my life, I’m still very young and I’m not going to school,” said Nyamakwenje, as her fellow citizens lined up to register with the embassy.

“Why did they do that?” she asked. “What exactly did we do wrong?” 

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South Africa’s main opposition Democratic Alliance names interim leader

South Africa’s main opposition party on Sunday elected an interim chief after its first black leader resigned

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South Africa’s main opposition party on Sunday elected an interim chief after its first black leader resigned over internal tensions last month.

John Steenhuisen, 43, was appointed the interim leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) until a vote for the party’s next president in 2020.

He was elected to temporarily replace the DA’s former head Mmusi Maimane, who said he suffered “coordinated attacks” during his four-year leadership.

Maimane resigned on October 23, striking the latest in a string of blows to the struggling DA — which has been trying to shed its historic image as a party for middle-class whites.

“The DA is not in a fight over ideology or a fight for power,” Steenhuisen said in a statement. 

“Our fight is to push back against the tide of poverty that has engulfed the lives of so many men, women and children in our country.”

Steenhuisen, who is white, said race-based redress policies — introduced to offset inequality created by the apartheid regime — had “made things worse”. 

“Those who still suffer the effects of past discrimination need to benefit from redress,” Steenhuisen said.

“But we don’t need to resort to crude race classification to do so,” he added.

Africa’s most industrialised economy is still battling with the legacy of apartheid — a system of racial segregation that favoured South Africa’s minority white population and ended in 1994.

Black people in South Africa continue to earn three times less on average than their white counterparts, according to government statistics released this week.

Dwindling popularity

Maimane stepped down just two days after another high-profile DA figure, Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba, resigned from the party.

He quit over the DA’s approach to inequality, claiming he could not work with people “who believe that race is irrelevant in the discussion of inequality and poverty in South Africa”.

Mashaba said he made the decision after Helen Zille — a white politician who has stoked controversy by arguing there were some positive aspects to colonialism — was elected as the party’s federal council chairperson.

The DA, formed in 2000 as a merger of three “white” parties, has been plagued by internal factions stoked by an electoral slump in national and provincial elections this year.

“If we don’t learn the lessons from the 2019 elections, we are not going to be preferred in the 2021 (municipal) elections,” said Steenhuisen, addressing reporters after his victory.

“We have got to turn the setback of the last election into the biggest comeback in South African politics.”

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Whites still earning three times more than blacks in South Africa

Africa’s most industrialised nation has struggled to bridge the gap between racial and gender groups

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Whites still earning three times more than blacks in S.Africa

Whites in South Africa earned three times more than blacks on average, two decades after the demise of apartheid, according to a report shared on Thursday by the country’s statistics authority.

The report, which shed light on the highly sensitive issue of inequality, research found that the wage gap between South Africa’s groups increased between 2011 and 2015. 

It said the average monthly earning among blacks – who account for 80 per cent of the population – was 6,899 rand, while the figure was 24,646 for whites. 

Income earnings in South Africa remained “heavily racialised,” the statistics authority said.

It added that women earned roughly 30 per cent less on average than males.

Africa’s most industrialised nation has struggled to bridge the gap between racial and gender groups since the fall of apartheid in 1994.

For decades, the apartheid system legally divided South Africans into groups of whites, blacks, Indians and “coloureds,” a term designating people of mixed race.

The report did not compare wage inequality between 2015 and today.

The issue is deeply controversial, touching on issues such as inherited capital and access to quality education. 

The new report was compiled by Statistics SA, the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit and the Agence Francaise de Developpement (AFD).

“Black Africans are generally more vulnerable to labour markets and unemployment is high among that population group,” Statistician-general Risenga Maluleke told local radio station 702 after he released the report.

Black Africans make up the bulk of the country’s jobless at over 46 per cent with just under 10 per cent of whites facing unemployment.

The report, which also studied poverty trends, concluded that households headed by blacks and “coloureds” were “chronically” poor.

Blacks also had the lowest levels of access to the internet and health insurance coverage. 

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South African Airways cancels flights ahead of strike

Around 3,000 South African Airways workers are expected to take part in the open-ended strike starting Friday

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South African Airways cancels flights ahead of strike
A South African airways flight takes off as another one is parked in a bay on the tarmac at the Johannesburg O.R Tambo International airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gianluigi GUERCIA / AFP)

South African Airways (SAA) said Wednesday it was cancelling all its flights as thousands of workers vowed to press ahead with an indefinite strike the following day after the troubled national carrier announced a major retrenchment plan.

Around 3,000 workers, including cabin crew, check-in, ticket sales, technical and ground staff, are expected to take part in the open-ended strike starting Friday, their unions said.

The looming shutdown forced SAA to announce in a late-night statement on Wednesday that it “has cancelled nearly all its domestic, regional and international flights scheduled for Friday, November 15 and Saturday, November 16”.

“The airline’s key objective is to minimise the impact of disruptions for its customers,” it said.

Unions earlier Wednesday vowed their members would forge ahead with the strike, which the state-owned airline warned could collapse the embattled carrier.

“We are embarking on the mother of all strikes,” Zazi Nsibanyoni-Mugambi, president of the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) told a news conference in Johannesburg.

“We are grounding that airline on Friday,” said Irvin Jim, general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA).

The unions are pressing for a three-year guarantee of job security and an eight per cent across-the-board wage hike. 

‘Mother of all strikes’ –

Pilots — who are not taking part in the strike – have accepted a 5.9-per cent increase, they said.

The airline had announced on Monday a restructuring process that could affect 944 employees and “lead to job losses”.

The airline, which employs more than 5,000 workers, is one of the biggest in Africa, with a fleet of more than 50 aircraft providing dozens of domestic, regional and European flights each day.

Read: Africa World Airlines and South Africa Airways sign agreement

But the company is deep in debt, despite several government bailouts, and has not recorded a profit since 2011.

The unions blamed the SAA board and executive management for the airline’s crisis.

“They have deliberately destroyed what used to be one of the world’s best airlines, because of maladministration, rampant looting and corruption,” they said in a statement.

SAA Chief Executive Officer Zuks Ramasia warned that the strike would “exacerbate rather than ameliorate our problem” and urged the unions to make affordable demands.

“The unions and all employees should be mindful of the current financial constraints the company is facing,” she said in a statement.

She said the unions were aware that the airline’s financial woes were “caused by a number of factors, including a severely distressed global airline industry.”

This, she argued, had resulted in “numerous airlines retrenching staff, embarking on cost-reduction programmes, implementing wage freezes, reducing operations, or even closing down.”

The airline has been surviving off government bailouts. Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announced in February that the government would reimburse the company’s 9.2-billion-rand ($620-million) debt over the next three years.

South Africa is struggling to get its state-owned companies back on track after nine years of corruption and mismanagement under former president Jacob Zuma.

Analyst Daniel Silke warned in a tweet that the planned strike “may kill an airline already on its knees affecting the jobs of thousands more.”

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