Whispering Campaign by Rhoda Kadalie

Whispering Campaign by Rhoda Kadalie

Imagine sitting in your home in Rondebosch and a marauding mass of people charge down Sandown Road with weapons demanding that you leave your home or job because you are Italian or British or Portuguese. Imagine you are married to someone from another group and you are constantly told by your neighbour that you are stealing ‘their women’, stealing ‘their jobs’ simply because you are foreign and hard-working?

That is exactly what happened on 16 May 2008 when non-nationals were hounded out of their homes and jobs by black South Africans who one minute were neighbours, and the next enemies. For a long time many of these foreigners had been living side by side with South Africans as neighbours and friends, intermarrying, sharing space, groceries, and jobs. Their children played with one another until a whispering campaign started. ‘The refugees are stealing our jobs; the foreigners are taking our women; the amakwerekwere are taking our RDP homes.’ ‘Drive them out; destroy their possessions; burn their shops; smash their homes.’

Whereas before, amakwerekwere was a regular insult, now the word took on a malicious and vicious meaning. It became the yellow star that marked the outsider; that separated the Hutu from Tutsi, the Bosnian from the Serb, Inkata from the ANC, the English from the Boer, the Malau from the Bantu. In 2005 F (aged 30) came here from the DRC. He left the DRC for safety reasons and settled in Durban Central, in Point Road. There he met E (23 years old). They have one three-year-old daughter. They lived there for nine months and then came to Cape Town and settled here in Lower Crossroads, in an RDP house, in January 2007, with three other children. E worked as a hairdresser in Guguletu and her husband as a barber.

On 16 May, F and his daughter were in the house when around 40 people armed with guns, smashed the doors, shouting kwerekwere, and attacked his pregnant sister, smashed her head, took the TV, the DVD player, the microwave and the telephone. Friends tried to help but could not, while others stood by cheering the attackers on.

F ran away with his family to Samora. By that time he had no money, so took a job as a private security guard, while his wife continued hairdressing in a new venue, which was a tent. Here again they attacked his wife, beat her, smashed her face until her eyes were severely bruised. They took everything. By then E and F feared for their lives, and fled to the police station in Cape Town, where they stayed for two days. SABC1 and eTV interviewed E and through the UCT Legal Aid Law Clinic they were brought to RUC.

The story for M and P is much the same. M (31) is from the DRC. He speaks French, Swahili, English, elementary Zulu and Xhosa. He is married to P, a Zulu-speaker, and they have two children. He came to SA in 2000, having fled for political reasons and stayed in Durban for six years. He studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood, but after meeting and marrying P ended up working for Enforce Security Group.

He came to Cape Town in 2006 and worked for ADT armed response. They lived in Philippi and rented an RDP house and lived with Xhosa-speakers who were also renting. ‘For economic reasons I am forced to live in the location as I cannot afford to live in the suburbs. I lived with my two sisters (11 and 16 years old) and 17-year-old younger brother in the same house. There we were constantly insulted; and called kwerekwere’ – which actually means ‘a person one cannot communicate with’.

M met P from Harding, Durban, towards the end of 2002. She was always asked why she as a Zulu could marry a kwerekwere but at this time such a question was still considered benign. In Philippi the racism was more hostile and M often endured comments like, ‘You are not reliable; go back to the Congo’. For P the racism was compounded by the Xhosa/Zulu divide.

On 23 May 2008 the attackers were destroying the businesses of Somali’s and came to their household, where she was working as a hairdresser. They came to the container and shouted ‘we will destroy your house – it does not belong to you; we will destroy you’. They came in and destroyed the windows, invaded the house and stole their belongings. In Xhosa they kept shouting: ‘you amakwerekwere are taking our jobs and our women and our money!!’

P and her family were awake all night because they threatened to burn the container. The Police stood by failing to give them any protection and warned them to take their blankets as there would be an all out war and they would not be able to protect them. They fled on Sunday 25 May 2008.

They too found RUC through the UCT Law Clinic after The Daily Sun interviewed P and took a picture of the whole family. M innocently asked a question of a friend’s boyfriend who was a member of the ANC: ‘How could Jacob Zuma come to Khayelitsha and make a speech behind closed doors?’ They were suspicious of the meeting and believed that the street meeting was planned to drive out foreigners; they innocently believed it was in a pamphlet and the media featured this story without notifying them or asking them permission.

‘RUC saved us and we do not know how to thank the church enough for supporting our family. God will bless the church for its kindness and service. One day we will have a chance to thank the church for helping us spiritually and financially.’

‘When things like this happen, we cannot be upset because the Israelites were also badly treated, as foreigners, but God delivered them. In the same way God will help us as God found a way through RUC. When someone stabs you in the back, Jesus is in front to save you.’

‘We Africans always have someone to blame. Apartheid is gone and we are still blaming someone. I pray that God gives Africans new hearts; God must give Africa a new vision, from the leadership to the bottom. We have a chance to create a new Africa.’