By Felix Mponda
Blantyre (Malawi) (AFP) – Foreigners fleeing xenophobic violence in South Africa told Tuesday of how they escaped marauding death mobs and vowed never to return to the country where they had sought a new life.
Holding her one-year-old daughter in her arms, Agnes Salanje from Malawi said she “faced death” during the wave of anti-immigrant violence that has claimed at least seven lives.
“We could have been killed as these South Africans hunted for foreigners, going from door to door,” Salanje, who was a domestic worker in the Indian Ocean port city of Durban, told AFP.
Nearly 400 Malawians arrived overnight in the city of Blantyre in the south of the country, where they were met by government ministers and officials.
The attacks on foreigners have sparked anger and protests against South Africa across the rest of the continent.
Salanje, who was paid $200 a month, said she escaped the attackers after being “tipped off by a good neighbour and we ran to a mosque to seek shelter.”
“I will not go back. It is better to be poor than be hunted like dogs because you are a foreigner,” she said.
“I lost everything. I only managed to grab a few clothes for myself and my baby Linda.”
– ‘Be killed or go home’ –
South African authorities have vowed to crack down on mobs who have been attacking foreigners from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and other African countries in both the economic capital Johannesburg and Durban.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said Tuesday the army would be deployed in parts of Johannesburg to prevent any further violence.
Foreigners are often the focus of resentment among poor South Africans who face a chronic jobs shortage.
Chisomo Makiyi, 23, who worked at a clothes factory in Durban, is still puzzled about why she was attacked.
“Had I not run away to safety, I would not be here,” she said, on arrival in Malawi after a three-day journey from Durban that took six different buses.
“I just don’t know why all of a sudden they start hating foreigners and giving them two choices — be killed or go home.
“My life is more important than a good salary,” she said, vowing to never return to South Africa, despite being paid $280 a month there, “which back home would be a dream.”
Zimbabwe, which has at least one million citizens working in South Africa, said 400 arrived by bus at the border late on Monday after leaving camps in Durban, where they had sought shelter.
“Many of them were distressed when our teams went to the camps but they are now happy to be back home,” foreign ministry spokesman Joey Bimha told AFP.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has expressed “shock and disgust” at the violence, but those who return to the country also face a difficult future, given Zimbabwe’s moribund economy.
– Zulus accused –
The first Mozambicans returned on Friday, with 109 people accommodated over the weekend at a transit camp where they were given tents, blankets and hot food.
They said that the unrest started when Zulus attacked “Shangaan”. The Shangaan tribe lives on both sides of the South Africa-Mozambique border but “Shangaan” is also sometimes used by South Africans as a loose term for foreigners.
“They say we take their jobs, and that our men take their wives,” Victoria N’Gonhamu, 29, who worked in Durban as a maid, told AFP.
Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini has denied whipping up xenophobic hatred in a speech last month when he blamed immigrants for rising crime and said they must leave South Africa.
The king insisted the media had misrepresented his speech, which was widely seen as inciting the attacks.
Meanwhile, a magistrates’ court in Johannesburg on Tuesday adjourned a case of four men accused of stabbing to death a Mozambican man in broad daylight.
Graphic photographs of the killing were published in many South African and international newspapers.
Reacting to the violence, the biggest hospital of Botswana, the Princess Marina, said it had halted routine referrals to medical fatalities in neighbouring South Africa due to safety fears.