By: Kabelo Mhlambiso
Gays and lesbians from outside South Africa who stay in the country say they fear double stigmatisation and violence in the wake of xenophobic threats that after the 2010 FIFA World Cup all foreigners would be sent packing.
Hugo Withakenge Murphy 31, a bisexual man from the Democratic Republic of Congo who stays in Johannesburg CBD, says even though he has only faced minor cases of hate speech particularly when using public transport, he fears that one day he may speak the wrong language at a wrong place.
“I feel that people like us who stay in urban areas do no face half the issues of xenophobia and homophobia like our brothers and sisters who stay in townships. But you never know who you may piss off just by speaking your home language.”
Meanwhile *Sipho Mvelase a gay man who is a South African citizen says xenophobic attacks of 2009 cost him his 2 year relationship since his ex partner, originally from Zimbabwe, left him fearing for his life.
“He told me that he does not trust any South African and that he feels really unsafe around me. He was even reluctant to be seen with me in public since I am noticeably gay, fearing that he will suffer attacks both for being a foreigner and for being a homosexual. Having seen the images in the media of foreign people being burnt to death, he left me for good.”
At the moment, rumors that xenophobic attacks were once again looming in the country, have added salt to many injuries and have led to many foreigners returning to their homes despite the radical challenges awaiting them such as war, famine, persecution etc.
A 34 year old man from Togo who chose to remain anonymous for fear of more victimization, says he still remembers vividly how his brother was stabbed to death by four South African men at a taxi rank in Mayville, a township in the East coast of Durban (KwaZulu-Natal), just for speaking Kabiy, one of Togo official languages.
The source and his brother owned a hair salon at Albert Park one of Durban’s notorious residential areas. They used to cook and sleep inside their salon but after their business was burnt with a petrol bomb and told to go back home during the 2008 xenophobic attacks, they braved their challenges and went back home.
A few months later when they were stuck between a rock and a hard place back home, they had to come back to South Africa and decided to stay at Mayville where the rent is cheaper and they still had hopes of running their business.
But this is where they came face to face with the ugliness of xenophobia, called names on a daily and accused of stealing business opportunities for South Africans.
“On the day my brother and his friend were coming back from work in town since he still did a lot of freelance haircutting. According to eyewitnesses he spoke Kabiy with his friend and seeing that they were foreigners, the four men accused them of talking about them behind their backs”, he said.
When he struggled to defend himself in Zulu and English they stabbed him, also calling him iKwerekwere, a derogatory name for a foreigner.
“I was shocked beyond words when his friend came to my house carrying his belongings and telling me that he was stabbed. When we went back to the bank, I found him cold soaking in his own blood”, he said.
Despite losing family members, being harassed by the police and the community in general, sleeping on the streets in sheer poverty, foreigners says South Africa is full of business opportunity and to some it is a beacon for a better life.
“At home even if you have a business people would rather buy food than spend money on their hair. There is just no money and as men it is our responsibility to go out and look for ways to support our families and put our children through school”, the Mayville source said.
He added “there are no opportunities for growth despite the education that we struggle to undergo. Many of our brothers, sisters and friends are doctors, lawyers, teachers, but there are no jobs.”
On 29 July 2010, Civil society group, Black Sash, launched a campaign ‘One Signature at a Time‘, aimed to fight xenophobic violence. Black Sash also claims the aim of the campaign is to collect a million signed pledges against intolerance and intimidation towards foreigners in the country.
According Black Sash, this initiative came in the wake of alleged xenophobic attacks that occurred shortly after the Soccer World Cup.
Programme Manager at Black Sash Advocacy, Nkosikhulule Nyembezi says the unity displayed at the World Cup needs to be practiced everyday.
In the Western Cape, civil society organisations called on South Africans to report threats of violence in communities to the police. The call came as a campaign to root out intolerance and was launched at Du Noon near Milnerton on 28 July 2010 titled , tittled ‘Unite as One’ .
It also aimed at collecting a million signatures from the public.
The signatures will reportedly be handed over to authorities ahead of African Human Rights Day on October 17.
For more information about xenophobia in South Africa, refugee sites, available assistance etc visit http://www.xenophobia.org.za/