While the eThekweni Municipality has downplayed the attacks on Malawian migrants in Durban, blaming them on criminals, reports indicate xenophobia as the cause, writes an Al Qalam reporter.
There is an uneasy calm as more than 200 Malawian migrants have returned to their shack settlements by Wednesday after scores had sought refuge on the grounds of Masjid-us-Saliheen in Sherwood where they were fed and protected by local Muslims.
“We are returning to our shacks for now, but we don’t feel safe. As for me, I am thinking of returning home to Malawi with my wife and child because the local Africans hate us…they say we are taking their jobs,” said one 34-year-old man who gave his name only as Ali.
Many migrants – largely Muslims – say this attack on them was clearly a xenophobic, despite city fathers downplaying the incident on opportunistic criminal elements.
As droves of people arrived at the parking ground of Masjid-us-Saliheen with only their clothes on their backs, local Muslim groups and NGO’s sprung into action providing hot meals, shelter and clothing for men, women and children. Others found safety at the Sydenham Police station.
So far 105 Malawian migrants have registered to return to Malawi where they say they would be safer rather than living with one eye open at their shack settlement in the Burnwood Rd and Puntans Hill areas where most Malawians reside under deplorable conditions with locals. Their return to Malawi is being facilitated by the International Organisation for Immigration and the Malawi High Commission.
It is alleged that the local shack community turned on the Malawians after allegations of theft was leveled at one member of the Malawian community.
The local shack dwellers – after negotiations with leaders – agreed to allow the return of the Malawians back to their homes after a letter was written.
An Ethekwini Municipality communiqué said: “As a sign of extending an olive branch, the Malawian nationals wrote a letter apologising for those that have committed the act of crime,” “This gesture was overwhelmingly welcomed by the locals who indicated that they were ready to welcome the Malawian nationals back to the community.”
But Mohammed Ismail “Batman”, a leading member of community-based organization Ethekweni Secure, said getting the Malawians to write a letter in order to return to their homes, did not make sense.
“It’s like punishing a whole class of kids for the wrongs of one,” he said.
He said the Ethekweni Secure would be closely monitoring the safety of the Malawians and would respond to any recurring crisis. He said there were clearly reports of Xenophobia emanating from the cowering Malawians, rather than simply saying it was case of opportunistic criminal elements, he said. “The municipality was clearly downplaying allegations of Xenophobia whereby reports on the ground indicate otherwise,” he added.
Ethekwini municipality said, however, that the situation over an allegedly stolen item was “hijacked” by a group of locals and criminals.
Acting Malawian High Commissioner to South Africa Gloria Bamusi thanked the local and national government for the assistance rendered – and to the community policing forum, NGOs and the Durban Muslim community who came to their rescue.
A meeting was held between the community of Burnwood, near Sydenham, eThekwini municipality mayor Zandile Gumede, and the acting Malawian High Commissioner to South Africa Gloria Bamusi.
But Gumede insisted that the attacks on Malawians are non-xenophobic.
According to Daily Vox, the African Solidarity Network (ASONET), a group lobbying for the rights of immigrants and asylum seekers, said the Mayor by her utterances is just trying to protect her image.
“If it’s not xenophobia and criminality, how many people have been arrested? The current situation is xenophobia at its best and the best term for it is Afrophobia because it is only people of African descent who are attacked. And let it be what it is, we don’t have to play around with the words because it is what it is,” spokesman Daniel Dunia said.
Dunia said people continue being attacked because the government has failed to implement the recommendations that were brought forth after xenophobia break out in 2015.
“We can’t have foreign nationals who invest in their lives and then they will be beaten, their businesses looted and chased out of their communities, and then you say it’s not xenophobia.
“There was a great recommendation but the province has failed to implement it, and until they do, xenophobia will continue,” Dunia said.