‘Please let us back in …’

Dis­placed peo­ple say they lived hap­pily at Jika Joe set­tle­ment and just want to re­turn

Weekend Witness - - News - THAM­SANQA MAGUBANE

THE dis­placed for­eign na­tion­als who suf­fered a bru­tal xeno­pho­bic at­tack at the Jika Joe in­for­mal set­tle­ment in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg this week have a des­per­ate mes­sage for their for­mer neigh­bours: “Please let us back in”.

Al­most all for­eign na­tion­als who spoke to Weekend Wit­ness yes­ter­day said for years prior to the at­tacks on Wed­nes­day night, they had lived hap­pily at the set­tle­ment and al­though they are scared, they would like to re­sume their lives.

“We have lived here for many years, and we have lived nice lives and there were no prob­lems,” said Mo­hammed Ali from Malawi, one of the af­fected peo­ple.

Ali, along with at least 50 other for­eign na­tion­als, took refuge at the lo­cal mosque. Hud­dled in a group and stand­ing along the con­crete walls of the mosque, the men looked tired, wor­ried and scared yes­ter­day.

They have lost ev­ery­thing. Al­most all of them have to sur­vive with just the clothes on their backs. Their homes were looted and de­stroyed.

Oth­ers were con­cerned they had left their girl­friends and chil­dren at the set­tle­ment and want to go back to them.

As they slept at the mosque, re­ports were re­ceived that there may have been plans to at­tack the mosque. How­ever, they spent the night in peace.

Jika Joe ex­ploded in vi­o­lence af­ter a lo­cal man who had been in­volved in a fight with for­eign na­tion­als was found dead.

Al­though some claim the man was mur­dered by for­eign na­tion­als, Weekend Wit­ness un­der­stands from a va­ri­ety of sources that he may have been ac­ci­den­tally elec­tro­cuted.

Po­lice spokesper­son Colonel Jay Naicker said they re­cov­ered the body of Mzwakhe Kh­eswa (24), a res­i­dent at the set­tle­ment. “No vis­i­ble in­juries could be found on him and his cause of death is un­de­ter­mined at this stage. A post mortem will be held to de­ter­mine the ex­act cause of death. No foul play is sus­pected.”

He said po­lice con­tinue to pa­trol the area, how­ever, when Weekend Wit­ness vis­ited Jika Joe yes­ter­day there were no po­lice present.

Ali said some lo­cals have in­vited them back to the set­tle­ment. He said he was still shocked at how the lo­cals in­stantly blamed all for­eign­ers for the death. “When they came to at­tack, they did not ask us any­thing, they just attacked us with knives and pan­gas

May, 2008: MORE than 40 000 peo­ple are ex­pected to at­tend the mas­sive ANC elec­tion rally at Harry Gwala Sta­dium in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg to­day.

ANC sec­re­tary­gen­eral, Gwede Man­tashe and ANC pro­vin­cial chair­per­son Senzo Mchunu will un­pack the elec­tion man­i­festo dur­ing the “Jan­uary 8” rally, which be­gins at 10 am.

The crowds at Harry Gwala Sta­dium will be en­ter­tained by artists Oskido, Zakes, L’vovo and Thokozani Langa, among oth­ers.

Roads around Alexan­dra Park will be closed from 6 am to 6 pm. They in­clude: • Alexan­dra Road from Alan Pa­ton Av­enue to Col­lege Road (east­bound) — per­sons liv­ing in Alexan­dra Road can use the ex­treme left lane to ac­cess their homes. • Col­lege Road mid­dle lane will be a ded­i­cated lane for buses and taxis to get to their park­ing at Camps Drift. • Those us­ing pri­vate cars to at­tend the rally are re­quested to go via West Street and Col­lege Road to en­ter Alexan­dra Park. and steel pipes.”

Oth­ers wanted to go back one last time to see what was left of their be­long­ings be­fore they start over.

“I could go back to my room to see what’s left, but I know that they took ev­ery­thing,” said Ack­ren Nyson, also a Malaw­ian. “They took my clothes, my food and raided my home and took my blan­kets and my phone, I am left with noth­ing.”

Nyson said it was thanks to his girl­friend that he was not in­jured or killed.

“When the meet­ing [where the com­mu­nity de­cided to at­tack for­eign­ers] was called, my girl­friend told me not to go be­cause I would be beaten up … by 5 pm, the vi­o­lence flared and I had to run away.”

Steven Mathe (22) from Man­gochi in Malawi, said he was too ter­ri­fied to go back. He has only been liv­ing in the set­tle­ment for the past five months and what he saw ter­ri­fied him.

“I have been in South Africa for the past three years and I came to Pi­eter­mar­itzburg to be close to rel­a­tives … I would like to re­main in South Africa, but I would pre­fer to live in a dif­fer­ent part and not in the set­tle­ment.”

Jika Joe com­mu­nity leader Bheki Dladla said they were try­ing to rein­te­grate for­eign na­tion­als back into the set­tle­ment.

“Many are very scared, many have left prob­a­bly for good and the houses they oc­cu­pied have been left va­cant. There are oth­ers who want to come back. We have told them that they should come back be­cause we are try­ing to bring nor­mal­ity back.”

Dladla said those who han­dled the ini­tial meet­ing had failed the com­mu­nity. “They should not have let all for­eign na­tion­als be vic­timised; they should have dealt di­rectly with those sus­pected of wrong­do­ing.”

Other lo­cal peo­ple have ral­lied around those dis­placed.

A place of wor­ship in France town­ship has of­fered the af­fected peo­ple tem­po­rary shel­ter un­til they are back on their feet.

Lo­cal lawyer Ashin Singh is cur­rently in­volved in ne­go­ti­a­tions and safety as­sess­ments that would al­low all those that were chased out of their homes and robbed of their be­long­ings to re­turn home.

He said he had been at Jika Joe un­til mid­night on Thurs­day try­ing to bro­ker peace so the for­eign na­tion­als could move back into their homes.

Some of those who Weekend Wit­ness in­ter­viewed wanted to go home, but oth­ers said they were not will­ing to re­turn there, as they re­mained in fear of their lives.

PHOTO: NASH NARRANDES

For­eign na­tion­als dis­placed by vi­o­lence in Jika Joe sought refuge at the East Street mosque.

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