Xenophobia shatters the South African dream: The human story


“We don’t want Shangaan people in our area, the government should expel them back to their country,” said one local at Wattville hostel settlement in Benoni, east of Johannesburg.

It is a few hours after this local together with a group of his friends were chased down by police with rubber bullets. He is defiant and says tonight they will make yet another attempt.

“If [President Jacob] Zuma wants them, he can take them to Nkandla,” the man said refusing to identify himself, perhaps with a fear of being arrested.


(READ MORE: Zuma speaks on violence directed at foreign nationals in S.Africa)

He warns that tonight, he will be joined by some of his local compatriots as they go to attack foreigners staying adjacent to Wattville hostel. He blames foreigners for taking the locals’ jobs and other opportunities.

Although there are native people from the Shangaan tribe in South Africa, most in the area are believed to be from Mozambique. The question remains, whether foreign nationals in Germiston will be part of the death toll tonight or if their lives will be saved from the renewed xenophobic attacks.

Therefore, these threats place even locals from minority tribes in danger as the attackers hardly give anyone time to explain and prove his or her nationality.

This is the state of South Africa, a country deeply divided along racial, class, tribal and regional lines.

Edgar Maculo, a fruit vendor from Mozambique said, “I could not wait to be attacked so I had to come to the police station to seek protection for me and my family”.

He said he has been in the country since 2006. Asked if he would consider going home he said, “I stay here.” So it looks like he doesn’t have any other home besides this informal settlement.

His South African dream is almost shattered as he is likely to lose everything he has worked for as he spends more days at the police station and away from his shack that houses all his belongings.

Maculo is not a job seeker, he is not a beneficiary of the RDP houses, he doesn’t sell drugs but his crime in the eyes of attackers is being a foreigner.

Residents in the area rely on the services and products of Somali-owned business but they too have been alienated. 

“We saw a Somalian who was stabbed and we also hear police have been to our area warning people to leave as they will not be able to be everywhere when these attacks occur,” recollects one elderly woman who resides in Makausi, another settlement hit by xenophobic attacks.

A Zimbabwean youth, Trust Ncube (22) said he was attacked by a group of locals last night.

“They attacked my shack with stones and sticks when I was inside sleeping. I came out of my shack running as I feared they would kill me. I am safe now at this police station,” he said.

Ncube is from Bulawayo, he said he is self-employed at a nearby scrapyard where he collects pieces of steel he sells to local buyers.

“If I had the means, I would go back home, but for now I can’t afford to,” he adds demonstrating the fear gripping most foreign nationals in the country as xenophobia spreads in other parts of South Africa.

Tensions remain high not only in the volatile East Rand area but to most parts of the country as certain sections of locals are determined to see foreigners leaving.

Chairman of the Gauteng Provincial Police Board, Andy Mashaile said, “Criminals in this whole mess must be arrested and convicted. If this was xenophobia, the attacks were supposed to enjoy the entire support of the community but this is not the case.”

Six hundred kilometres from Germiston thousands of South Africans were demonstrating against xenophobia.

(READ MORE: Peace march disrupted, xenophobic violence continues)

It remains to be seen if these kinds of responses from locals will halt xenophobia. For now foreigners, especially in informal settlements, should trust that police will give them the much required protection.