Women living in terror plan march in Grahamstown

| Hancu Louw
Children play in and around the remnants of the Dream Spaza Shop in Extension 9, Rhini, Makana a day after the height of the looting of hundreds of immigrant-owned shops. Photo by Mia van der Merwe.

In the blistering hot conference room of the Masifunde Education and Development Project Trust, 14 women with determined calm put together a statement: ‘The police have told us that we must not go ahead with our planned protest at the City Hall on Friday as they cannot guarantee our safety. We cannot and will not back down’. The Voices of the Foreigner’s Wives represent a large number of women still too afraid to leave their homes after the spate of xenophobic violence that shook Grahamstown a week ago.

Sparked on Wednesday 21 October, the violence and looting has forced hundreds of shopkeepers from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Somalia and their families to abandon their businesses and flee for their lives after they came under attack from residents of the larger Grahamstown townships.

With most of the husbands still taking refuge at an undisclosed location outside of the town a week after the attacks, their wives and children have had to brave a hostile community with little support from the local municipality and the South African Police Service.

Currently, the Unemployed People’s Movement, Economic Freedom Fighters and the Masifunde Education and Development Project Trust have been the most active in offering support to the group.

“We must be over a hundred women and children, but you see we are only a few of us here, because most of them [shopkeeper’s wives] are still too scared to leave their homes,” said Jamila Raaes, one of the women that has been working to find solutions for their plight.

“We had to wait a day before the UPM (Unemployed People’s Movement) and their representatives made contact with us, and since then, they and the EFF and Masifunde have been the only real support to us,” said Raaes. “At least now people are helping us and doing things with us so we have hope.”

Unable to leave their homes for fear of victimisation, let alone work, the women face unemployment.

“Some of us, like me, are living off savings, but not all the victims are that fortunate so we have been forced to rely on the support from within our community of women,” she said.

With reports of isolated of cases of looting and harassment continuing, many women have resorted to also hiding their children at home. “When we walk in the streets in the location people swear at us and call us names so we don’t feel safe,” said Raaes.

“The problem is that the police don’t take us seriously; they think we are joking when we go there to tell them what we are facing,” said one woman.

According to earlier reports, Captain Mali Govender of the Grahamstown SAPS urged the women to lodge formal statements with SAPS so that a criminal case could be opened allowing for disciplinary processes to follow.

The repercussions of the widespread looting of hundreds of shops has left the residents of Joza and the neighbouring township areas in serious need of everyday goods.

“A 500g sugar now costs far more than what it did when I could buy from the Pakistani shops. Now, I have to pay R16 taxi fare to town and back to buy maybe one beef stock,” says Zusakhe Peter, a domestic worker and resident of Vukani township.

“Everyone is struggling now. The South Africans and the foreigners and their families. We can’t buy and they can’t work, so I feel very sorry for those women and children,” says Peter, who relies on the affordability of the spaza shops or “Pakistani shops” to make her monthly budget work. “The thing is we want them back because we need them as they need us, but we want an agreement between us and them and the police so that these things don’t happen again.”

The violence against immigrants has been blamed on an unsubstantiated allegation that a shopkeeper from Pakistan was involved in six “muti” murders. In an attempt to dispel these rumours, members of UPM have been distributing pamphlets since Monday informed by intelligence from SAPS in the CBD and the most affected areas of Joza and surrounding township in an attempt to set the record straight.

“The problem is that people are too afraid to speak out in the communities and tell people around them that what is being done to these people is wrong,” says Patricia May, who has been closely involved in support processes since 21 October as community activist and member of UPM.

Despite the support from non-governmental organisations, little but official responses and promises have come from local authorities since the weekend. “Really nothing has been done to resolve this issue and the mayor and councillors are not taking us and this crisis seriously,” says Rehana Naveed about the support offered to the Voices of the Foreigner’s Wives.

“We will however keep on and stand up for our lives and the lives of our families and community during our peaceful protest on Friday.”

Below are the demands of the Voices of the Foreigner’s Wives to be handed over to representatives of Grahamstown SAPS and Makana Municipality on Friday 30 October at 1pm.

1. Stop the xenophobic attacks in Grahamstown.
2. Stop the murder and rape of women in Grahamstown.
3. Build an economy that creates opportunities for all.
4. Provide housing and services for all.
5. Allow our husbands to return to our families.
6. Stop the rumours about our husbands.
7. Stop religious discrimination.
8. Stop councilors from dividing people.
“We stand for unity and a Grahamstown that is safe for all.”

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TOPICS:  Civil Society Crime Human Rights Immigration Local government

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