By Rex Mphisa
FOR eight years Stella Makosa (44) lived in the Mandela Section of Katlehong, a suburb 35km east of the South African city of Johannesburg.
Located south of Germiston, Katlehong has an estimated population of just under half a million people, predominantly black, but of mixed tribes.
It is part of the city of Ekurhuleni lying between Thokozani and Voosloorus and under Gauteng, South Africa’s industrial hub.
Makosa, of moderate but strong build and medium height, says she is industrious and eked out a living from multi-tasking, selling different products and engaging in numerous “piece-
jobs” like working in kitchens, and doing laundry for numerous clients.
Economic hardships back home in Zimbabwe saw her join the great trek to South Africa, where an estimated three million Zimbabweans are believed to have opted for instead of home where
the unemployment rate peaked at over 80% of the once thriving country’s 15 million people.
South Africans loved to call Makosa “our Mukwerekwere” (a derogatory name given to Zimbabweans in that country) and even gave her spare keys to their homes to work while they were away,
a sign of trust.
As the workload increased, Makosa invited her sibling Mercy to join her in what had become her second home more than a thousand kilometres from Murehwa, north-east of Harare, where they were born and bred.
“We would regularly travel home to visit relatives when we took time off from our busy schedule,” she said in an interview at the International Organisation for Migration reception
centre in Beitbridge.
“Several relatives joined us on our way back to South Africa with or without documents.
“Others moved to other towns once we showed them how to work and what we did.
“People liked us for our general knowledge in everything. At times we helped their children with homework,” she said.
Together with Mercy, they were part of 76 Zimbabweans repatriated home from South Africa on Friday after indicating a willingness to return home after fleeing from the xenophobic
Makosa lived in the same Mandela Section with Isaac Sithole, the 35-year-old Zimbabwean man bludgeoned and burnt to death during the indiscriminate xenophobic violence against
foreigners which initially targeted truck drivers, but later on became widespread and bloody.
Sithole, among the 12 known to have been killed, is reported to have run from his burning home, trying to get to a police station in Katlehong. But a mob caught and beat him before
setting him alight.
“We saw many similar scenes, the figure 12 is just a tip of the iceberg, many more people were killed, but they (South African government) know why they only mention a small figure,”
“Many people were murdered. People with whom we lived with are the same who turned our enemies overnight.
“They ransacked the homes we rented from them, stole what they wanted and burnt what they did not want.”
She said for many days after September 2, 2019, the day South African nationals renewed attacks on foreigners, she and many other Zimbabweans lived in the bush.
“It was a nightmare to see some of our hitherto friends turn against us,” she said.
“The women cheered as their men beat foreigners. Women also took household goods they coveted, even clothes.”
South African citizens looted shops and later plundered the homes of foreigners, stealing goods and cash, later burning what they did not want.
Lorraine Moyo of Mberengwa, who was a hairdresser in the same Mandela section, said the Zulus were more violent and cruel.
Zulus make 37% of the 407 000 people of Katlehong, according to statistics.
“I ran into a toilet first, but someone advised me to go to the bush where I joined others. It’s true many people were killed and putting the figure at 30 is not an exaggeration,” she
South Africa puts the casualties at 12, but only seven bodies have been found and identifying them is proving a challenge because many were burnt beyond recognition.
Victims were first beaten up and tortured before being set alight after being doused with petrol.
“It was both terrifying and barbaric. They are ruthless and heartless. I hope I never see such brutality again,” said Moyo from Jeka village, Chief Mudavanhu of Mberengwa, who had lived
in South Africa since 2014.
“The men were armed with knobkerries, machetes and other primitive weapons. Some had guns they would occasionally fire,” she said.
Sithole’s widow, Lydia Chimbirimbiri, who caught international attention when she narrated her husband’s ordeal from a hall in Katlehong, was part of the first batch of repatriates.
“I only want to get home and rest. I am tired,” she said holding in her arms her six-week-old baby, Fortunate.
Mercy Makosa said she had never seen such cruelty in her life.
The attack came a day after she had been paid a large amount of money, which she left in the house, but will never recover.
“I never got home from work. Everything I worked for is lost and am back to nothing, but I will never set foot in South Africa again,” she vowed.
Most of the returning Zimbabweans have a common request.
“Why are our politicians blind to the situation most of us are living in?
“How much more blood should be spilt before they decide to sort the economy and have us live happily again?” asked Moyo.
Meanwhile, 76 Zimbabweans and the body of Sithole, were on Friday repatriated through Beitbridge.
They were the first batch of the 171 that are expected to come back home voluntarily.
Of those, 26 were children.
Out of the 76, some 72 were aboard two buses, one headed for Harare and the other for Bulawayo.
The buses will drop those headed for smaller centres along the way.
Fares to complete their journeys were provided as well as pocket money for food.
“Along the way from Johannesburg a number of service stations provided us with food,” Stella Maphosa from Murehwa, one of the returnees, said.
The buses were arranged by the Zimbabwean embassy in South Africa for at least 171 South Africa-based Zimbabweans, who have indicated their willingness to return home in flight from
Most of the returnees did not have any property after it was burnt or destroyed by rioting South Africans.
Chimbirimbiri, her brother Henry and the late Sithole’s brothers, led by Langton, rode in one car towing a trailer with his remains.
“We are going to Mapungwana village in Chipinge, where he will be laid to rest,” said Langton.
Beitbridge district coordinator Sikhangezile Mafu led a team of officials who received and counselled the returnees.