via Xenophobia: Women, children hit hardest | The Herald April 30, 2015
For decades, African women have been active in agriculture, trade, and other economic pursuits. Amajority of them have remained in the informal labour force and always played a supporting role to their spouses. In other words, they carry the social burden; are guardians of their children’s welfare and have explicit
responsibility to provide for them materially.
Furthermore, they are the household managers, providing food, nutrition, water, health, education and family planning to an extent greater than elsewhere in the developing world.
The recent spate of xenophobia motivated attacks that broke out in Durban, South Africa, left over 4 000 immigrants, mainly those from Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Botswana and Tanzania displaced.
The onslaught claimed seven lives and left several others badly injured.
A total of 112 suspects were arrested in connection with the violence.
The majority of victims of these brutal attacks were women who worked as housemaids or supported their husbands employed in and around Durban.
From the different homes the xenophobia victims were forced to seek shelter at two transitional camps at Chatsworth and Phoenix suburbs in Durban.
Some of the camps have closed down but some are still operational.
The traumatised women at the two transitional camps had very sad tales to tell.
They were forced out of their homes in a huff without clothes and blankets and even sanitary wear.
It was a matter of life and death.
They had to vacate the suburbs or face death from the marauding xenophobes.
“The situation here is unbearable. I fled my house with my one-year-old toddler in my arms. I had no time for anything else,” said Ms Talent Nyoni from Zhombe.
“I only managed to take a bag of clothes and my child and hid in the bush when the mob came looking for foreign immigrants in Ntomba area.
“I was at the camp for five days where I could not bath. There was inadequate shelter, controlled meals and the threat of further attacks,” Ms Nyoni said.
“I endured the same food daily. My child was used to a different diet and he was also traumatised. We had limited toilets and they filled up. Above all, we were overcrowded and lacked freedom,” she added.
Ms Nyoni, who was employed as a maid in Phoenix suburb, said most of her property was stolen as she fled from the house.
She was the sole breadwinner for her family back home.
Another Zimbabwean woman, Mrs Elta Zephaniah who was visibly sick, said she was having challenges accessing medication at the sole Red Cross Clinic at Phoenix Camp.
“I was sick for three days and was having challenges in accessing medication at the clinic because there were a lot of people there including those who were assaulted and injured.
“I could not leave the camp because the situation in the suburb was tense. My husband, who is employed as truck driver, was away and there was no one to help me. The conditions at the camp were inhuman. We could not bath and there was no adequate water. Generally everything was controlled and we were not used to that,” she said.
Mrs Zephaniah had been staying in South Africa for two years.
She vowed never to go to back to South Africa after escaping the vicious overnight attack.
She and her neighbours were only saved by their landlord who alerted them to the impeding attacks after getting word from a friend.
“We escaped with a few bags leaving behind electrical gadgets which we could not carry. We slept in the bush. On the following day we sought refuge at the police station before being taken to a camp (Phoenix),” she said.
She said there were challenges with sleeping space and nationalities of different countries were also quarrelling because of different cultures and way of life.
A Mozambican woman, Mrs Martha Chauke, said her stay at in the transitional camp was nothing short of torture because of limited space.
“I wanted to go home. Life was difficult. We had to scramble for food and the little water for bathing and drinking. Some people were even sleeping in the cold and I was worried that many children would be affected by the cold weather,” she said.
Mrs Chauke had been staying with her husband in the 1104 area of Durban where he was employed as a builder.
In the camps, women and children had to stand in long queues three times a day to get food.
Sometimes the queues were made up of more than 600 people.
There were fears of disease outbreaks at the centres as they also slept in crowded tents where other immigrants smoked at night.
The area around most of the ablution facilities was littered with human waste including diapers and produced a stench of urine amid fears of an outbreak of diseases.
The business community around Durban and other civic groups provided food to the displaced immigrants.
“We were sitting on a time bomb. We were overcrowded and struggled for everything including water, food, sleeping points,” said Andrew Shumba, a Zimbabwean.
Other immigrants also complained about the unavailability of decent meals and electricity.
“Women and men were bathing in the open, there were no proper sanitary facilities for both women and children.
“The toilets were filled up and life inside the camp was just not normal. We felt vulnerable,” said a Mozambican man who preferred anonymity.
Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to South Africa, Mr Isaac Moyo, described the conditions at the camps as a humanitarian challenge.
“The conditions at the camps are difficult considering that they are staying in the open where it is drizzling and cold during the night.
“We are doing our level best to ensure that our people are repatriated to Zimbabwe. You will note that people there are enthusiastic about going to their respective homes where they can leave a decent life,” he said.
Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique have since last week been evacuating their citizens from the volatile areas of Durban.
Zimbabwe has since repatriated 830 people from Durban in hired buses via Beitbridge Border Post. Among those repatriated were 105 children and 324 women.
South Africa’s Minister of Social Development, Mrs Bathabile Olive Dlamini, told journalists during a tour of the Primrose Camp in Johannesburg recently that they had agreed with community leaders to re-integrate some of those who had been displaced.
“The leadership in various communities has taken it upon themselves to ensure the safety of the immigrants and we want to warn those involved in criminal activities that the law will take its course,” she said.
She added that they had engaged people from the Nelson Mandela Foundation to help with the training of people from local government level on issues around conflict resolutions.
“This is a process we need to approach collectively and we have taken the necessary steps to prepare our communities to co-exist with immigrants. We don’t want to push people to communities which are not ready to integrate them.
“As a government we have made commitments to ensure the safety of all the people within our communities and we will stick to that,” said Mrs Dlamini.
She said the SA government would work with the International Organisation for Migration “as we escalate the facilitation and involvement of the communities in this process (integration)”.