Violent xenophobic attacks have erupted in South Africa, leaving five dead and thousands displaced. The violence first targeted shops owned by foreign nationals, largely from Somalia and Ethiopia. Now it’s spreading against all African foreigners, leaving many feeling terrified and hopeless.
Somalia national Ebrahim Mohamad Ali runs a coffee shop in Johannesburg. Memories of the 2008 xenophobic attacks in South Africa are still fresh in his mind. He lost his auto repair business – and his brother as well.
“That time, even my brother there, they killed him, that xenophobic guys. My brother is passed away there. They killed him in that robbery, for xenophobia. Me, I lost all my tools, all my money,” said Mohamad.
Seven years later, the attacks have erupted again and have left foreigners terrified. Somali and Ethiopian nationals owning grocery shops in Soweto township were the first to be targeted. They were beaten and chased away by locals who took over their businesses.
Foreign shop owners in Durban were the next to be targeted and now all
African foreign nationals are being told to pack and leave. Thousands have been displaced and are living in makeshift camps.
Ethiopian national Sarah Kidane is still traumatized after being violently forced out of her shop in Soweto.
“I’m not feeling okay. I was losing too much; I was losing my life; but I don’t know what I can say – but I don’t have any choice now; I don’t have any choice now; go back there; the people are not good; they will start again,” said Kidane while crying.
Other victims say South African police are turning a blind eye to their fate. Gitaw Aniyo, 32, is one of them.
“I did go to report for the police but no one helped me that time. I was in the police station, even — no police even that time. I don’t know what was happening. I didn’t receive anything,” said Aniyo.
Many others, like 25-year-old John Alemu, say they are puzzled by the attacks.
“We are African brothers, but they give us problems here. They kill our brothers and they rob our own shops,” said Alemu.
South African authorities have denied the country is experiencing xenophobic attacks, preferring to call them criminal acts.
Abdirikaz Ali Osman, national secretary of the Somali Community Board of South Africa, disagrees.
“To me it’s pure xenophobic attacks, which have been targeted [against] the foreign nationals who are living in the country — especially those who are having small, informal business in the townships and the informal settlements. So it’s obvious that it’s xenophobic and Afrophobic violence actually,” said Osman.
Osman is pleading with authorities to swiftly intervene before these foreign nationals, who have already lost their livelihood, lose their lives as well.
Although the attacks are intensifying each day, the foreign nationals, especially those from Somali and Ethiopia, say they would rather die in South Africa than return to their countries of origin, where they are likely to be met with even more violence.