“We are all Africans”

Gina Poulo doing laundry infront of her house in Samora Machel (Pic by Siyavuya Khaya)

During the 2008 xenophobic attacks that left 62 dead, the picture of the burning man, Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave captured the horror of South Africa’s xenophobic violence to the world. Fast forward to 2015, the picture of a man holding a knife and about to stab Emmanuel Sithole had the same effect. Both men were from Mozambique and they were killed in the most horrific ways. Elitsha went to Samora Machel township and spoke to a Mozambican migrant who lives there.

A 35-year old Mozambican woman made an impassioned plea to South Africans to refrain from attacking foreign nationals and labelling them ‘amakwirikwiri’ (sic). This comes after the recent outbreak of xenophobic attacks two months ago.

Gina Poulo, who is a resident at Samora Machel in Phillipi says she hardly leaves her one roomed shack as she feels that she might be in danger of falling prey to criminals because she is not a South African. “I constantly fear for my life to be honest with you as I don’t know when another attack will break out and it’s like South African people have hatred against us foreign nationals,” she said weeping when asked how she feels about her safety in South Africa.

Statue of Samora Machel in Independence Square in Maputo (Pic by WWMP)

She came to South Africa in 2008 with her husband and they were looking for better jobs and opportunities to provide for their families in Mozambique. However, they were forced to go back to Mozambique when xenophobic attacks started in 2008 and now they constantly fear for their lives. Visibly emotional Ms Poulo said they were reluctant about returning, but eventually came back. “In Mozambique it’s not easy to find a job as there few companies and the unemployment rate is too high but in South Africa there are lot of companies and if you don’t find a work, you can render your services to the ordinary people and through that you are able to make a living,” said Gina. Her husband is a welder and it was not a problem for him to get a job.

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She described living conditions in South Africa as way better compared to Mozambique as they are able to feed their families back home and still able to save what is left. She added that even the rent which they are paying is not that much as it is only R200 a month. They do not have a permit to stay here, but her husband has applied for his permit and she is also considering applying for it. She emphasised that they are not here to steal jobs from South Africans, but want to make  progress in their lives like other people. She said in Mozambique there are a lot of South Africans and they are not victimized there and can live in peace.

General Secretary of Phillipi Development Forum and former ward councillor, Mzondi Mbaliswano said he was one of the founders of the area and when was established in 1996. Mbaliswano said the area was named after the former president of Mozambique and they wanted to honour the role he played during the apartheid era.He added that Samora Machel died in Nelspruit eBhuzini hence it was appropriate to honour him. “Samora Machel made an indelible mark in our struggle for liberation as our leaders used Mozambique, as their hiding place and we are preserving his legacy.” He said in their community they have started a committee which is solely dedicated to deal with pressing issues facing foreign nationals. A resident of Samora Machel, Sabelo Somdaka said he has lived in the area for fifteen years and they have tried all means to educate fellow South Africans not to attack fellow Africans. Somdaka said they have given their African people clan names to make them feel welcome in their area. As Elitsha wrapped up the interview Ms Poulo’s final comments were, “we are all Africans regardless of where we are coming from, what happened to humanity? Why are we killing each other?

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