“It’s better that we go home before they kill us”

| Ntombi Mbomvu
Some foreign nationals have decided to go back home. Pictured here are immigrants leaving the Habibia Soofie Majid Mosque in Pietermaritzburg. Picture by Ntombi Ngubane.

“We have the darkest skin colour so it is easy to see that we are not South African”, says Malawian national Niga Wezele. The 22-year-old fled from Isipingo when the xenophobic attacks started in KwaZulu Natal.

He is one of about 500 foreign nationals living in the the Habibia Soofie Masjid Mosque in Masukwane Street in Pietermaritzburg, many of whom are preparing to return to their countries after the violence.

“The looks people give us are scary, therefore we are very careful of anyone who is different from us. We know each other. As you can see, we have the darkest skin color so it is easy to see that we are not South Africans,” says Wezele. “People can easily spot us in the crowd because of our accent and our dark skin colour.”

“It’s better that we go home before they kill us. They were attacking us in Durban and they were clear that if we don’t go they will kill us.”

“I don’t even have a phone, I might have lost it when we were busy running away. I cannot say that my life in South Africa was perfect, but it was better compared to my life in Malawi. I came with some of my brothers hoping for a better stay, but it’s the other way around,” said Wezele.

According to the caretaker of the mosque, Goolam Soofie, about half the immigrants the mosque hosted were Malawians.

“They have decided that they are going back home and we will help them,” said Goolam.

Wezele came to South Africa in 2014 and lived in Isipingo. He survived by cleaning gardens and cutting the grass at people’s homes.

“I have concluded that I am going back home. I came to Pietermaritzburg because they were attacking us in Durban. People demanded that we to go back home and they were threatening to kill us. We had to travel with a bus at night which dropped us at Masukwane.

“When we arrived in Masukwane, the victimisation continued. All we could hear was people saying ‘go back to your country, go back to your country’. They said that in the Zulu language but we understand what they were saying.

“We came to the mosque where we were able to breathe,” said Wezele.

Goolam said the mosque had offered the same assistance to foreign nationals who were victims of xenophobic attacks in Gauteng in 2008.

“We had many of them coming to the mosque and we had to assist. The recent incidents are worse. We had an influx of women and children who were desperate for help. We had to do something; give them food and offer them a place to sleep. Most of them are going back home. Going back home is the only safe option for them. We won’t chase them away. We have been feeding needy people for years,” said Goolam.

Other Malawians were packing and rushing to the vehicles transporting them out of South Africa. Two full buses with women and children had already left.

Some of the foreigners on the mosque premises were uncomfortable when they saw this reporter’s camera. An old man with a foreign accent who was busy packing bags in to the van, asked if this reporter was there to attack them.

“We don’t trust anyone,” said Wezele.

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TOPICS:  Immigration

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