Africa

South Africa's xenophobic attacks: Fear and shame

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionMilton Nkosi reports from a makeshift refugee camp in Durban

Standing in the middle of this football field that has been turned into a refugee camp overnight in Chatsworth, one cannot help but feel ashamed of being South African.

There are white and green tents dotted around housing destitute African migrant families who fled the violence meted out to them by their South African hosts.

Two weeks ago locals began attacking and looting properties owned by fellow Africans, calling them "kwerekwere", a derogatory word in South Africa for African migrants.

I did not even have to ask Memory Mahlatini, a Zimbabwean who works as a nanny, what happened to her because her story was written all over her face.

'We are scared'

Her eyes alone made me look down in shame as she explained how a group of South Africans came to her rented home last Monday evening just as they were preparing to sleep and demanded that they go back to where they came from.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Hundreds of foreigners have been forced to flee the violence in South Africa

While taunting Ms Mahlatini and her husband, electrician Innocent Chazi, the crowd were banging doors saying "shaya, shaya", which means "beat, beat" in Zulu.

Ms Mahlatini said that their four children - Melissa 11, Milton, who is eight, and three-year-old twins Modify and Mollify - began to cry.

They left the children with their South African neighbour and they fled.

Ms Mahlatini said: "We are scared and we don't know where to go."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The displaced people rely on food handouts supplied by the local community

It was getting dark as Ms Mahlatini told me this numbing tale whilst queuing for some soup and bread prepared by sympathetic locals in Chartsworth.

Elsewhere on the football field, some of the displaced are huddled around small fires to keep warm. The marquees where they sleep have been supplied by the local authorities.

The camp houses at least 1,500 people who lost everything when their properties were ransacked; they are left with what they could carry on their backs.

Image caption Properties and businesses have been looted in this latest outbreak of violence

This part of the country is particularly beautiful with green sugar cane-covered hills.

But when so many stories of pain are repeated again and again, somehow it diminishes the beauty of the Zulu kingdom.

'It is criminal'

It is believed that this latest round of xenophobic attacks comes in the wake of alleged comments by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini telling migrants to go home - although he says he was mistranslated.

He blamed the media for deliberately distorting his speech in order to sell newspapers.

President Jacob Zuma has condemned the violence and has established a team of ministers to put an end to it.

The president, like many anti-apartheid activists, was hosted by other African countries while in exile.

And there is some irony that that solidarity is not working the other way.

Dennis John, a local pastor and camp volunteer, explained why he was helping out: "It is sad because we are Africans.

"We are supposed to take care of each other. It is criminal the way we treat our own."

More on this story

Around the BBC