Xenophobic violence flared in the Pretoria CBD this week, as rioters fire-bombed several shacks in an area they believed to be inhabited primarily by foreign nationals.
About 169 people were left destitute when 20 shacks were destroyed in Marabastad on Monday, reports Pretoria East Rekord.
The group of victims left homeless by the attacks include 40 children, 23 women and 106 men, of whom three are blind and some cannot walk.
The attackers were alleged to be taxi operators angry at foreign nationals in Boom Street, whom they accuse of using nyaope and supporting drug dealers.
“We did not know that they would attack us,” said Joyce Sithole, who lived at the camp with her sister and a one-year-old baby with disabilities.
Residents in the area were mostly Zimbabweans who made a living begging, working at hair salons and collecting recyclable material to sell for an income, she said.
Sithole said their attackers appeared “out of nowhere” at their homes, kicking down their doors.
As she fled her home, Sithole said she noticed a woman who was directing the protesters to burn the neighbourhood.
“I asked the woman why she was doing this as there were children here and she told me to ‘f**k off’,” Sithole recalled.
She said the shack dwellers lost all their groceries, clothes, identity documents and money, some of which they wanted to send to their loved ones back home.
“The children cannot go to school now because their school uniforms and books have been burnt.”
Sithole said that, as foreigners living at that squatter camp, they had come to South Africa to work and not to commit any crimes.
“We understand we are foreigners; however, we are not drug smokers or dealers. We do not smoke or sell nyoape.
“A person dealing in drugs would not be as poor as we are and living in conditions such as these. We are staying here because we do not have much,” she said.
Sithole said she understood that taxi drivers were fighting with drug dealers, but innocent foreigners were being attacked and left to suffer even further.
“We are hustlers, yes, but not hustlers for drugs.”
She thanked the Tshwane metro police and central police for safeguarding them after the attack.
“They checked on us and stayed with us throughout the night because the attackers said they would attack the community again.”
Lettie Chivhunga, who also lived at the destroyed shacks, said the problem was that taxi drivers were fighting “innocent people”.
She said the community did not know much about the alleged drug peddlers.
“They [rioters] have destroyed our homes, yet drug peddlers remain safe in their mansions.”
Chivhunga said innocent children, mothers and fathers “faced enough horrors” and that the attackers had made their lives worse.