“Come nightfall all hell will break loose. Come nightfall there will be hell to pay.”
These were the words of a young man perched high up on the Alexandra men’s hostel. His words were directed to anyone who cared to listen, but fell on a passerby. It was an elderly woman.
“Voetsek,” the elderly woman said. “You are an idiot; you want people to say people who live in hostels are violent. You want people to say Zulus are violent people,” she said.
Protesting broke out in Alexandra on Wednesday after social media messages calling for a total shutdown over a lack of service delivery were circulated on Tuesday night.
Community members are demanding a number of things — and at the top of their list is that the issue of foreign nationals in the community must be addressed.
Some residents told Daily Maverick on Wednesday that they wanted foreign nationals to leave the area because there was too much overcrowding. They claim this leads to crime. Others said foreign nationals should return to their homes and come back when they had the right papers to be in the country.
Residents said they were striking now because they continue to be ignored. They were striking only now because elections were drawing nearer and politicians were likely to hear and solve their problems.
“We are fed up with these foreign nationals. If it’s Somalis, they sleep on top of the very mealie meal they sell us. They spit right here when they want to. If it’s Nigerians, it’s drugs and crime. These people bring drugs, and they bring illness in our country. We were born here, but we don’t have houses. Our houses are sold to foreign nationals. The government’s own people are selling our houses,” claimed Alex resident Letiya Zungu, 60.
“The problem here is with government and its councillors. It’s been like this for far too long. We want change now. I was born here decades ago, but we are still living in squalor. In extension 7 and 8 houses were built, but they are occupied mostly by foreign nationals while we sit with our C-forms (a receipt used as proof that you have been registered on the housing waiting list),” said pensioner Zungu Maseko.
Zungu said just last Saturday her son had been stabbed and his phone and cap taken.
“Crime is rife because of overcrowding and hunger. If the government fails to send them away, which seems to be the case right now, then they should be allocated their own place and not live together with us in the same areas,” said Zungu.
Young people in Alexandra were fuming earlier in the morning. They told Daily Maverick they were up and on the streets by 1am. They said they had nothing to lose by their involvement in the strike — because they had nothing.
Tshepo Mazibuko, 18, said police had been alerted about criminals, but the police worked with criminals, especially drug dealers. Asked why they had decided to protest now, Mazibuko said the upcoming elections meant politicians would not ignore them.
“There are people who do not want the ANC in power any more. They go in people’s houses telling people to vote either the EFF or DA. Obviously, they are sent by somebody, but we don’t know who,” said Mazibuko.
Elizabeth Mabuza, 67, lamented that little had changed since the end of apartheid.
“We were the ones jumping over dead bodies during apartheid, now we live far worse lives than we were promised,” she said.
Mabuza, also born in Alexandra, said she has had to use a plastic bag to relieve herself because the one toilet she shares with eight other households was always filthy and full.
“Yes I sh*t in a plastic bag,” said Mabuza. “It’s okay because nobody cares,” she said.
“You know when it comes to the issue of the toilets, I feel like I can scream. The people who have their tails up now don’t know what we went through during apartheid. It’s amusing to them to see us live like this. We need a change of leadership in this country,” Mabuza said.
She said despite the high crime rate in the area, police were nowhere to be seen. Mabuza said she had been attacked three times by gun-toting thugs and when she reported this, the police failed to investigate and told her she should have taken the thugs’ car registration numbers.
“How could I have done that when I was traumatised by the incident?”
The latest outbursts in Alexandra come as recent xenophobic violence in parts of the country continues to be blamed on some politicians’ xenophobic sentiments towards foreign nationals.
The Democratic Alliance has made it no secret that issues around migration will form part of its campaign. Joburg DA mayor Herman Mashaba has repeatedly called for the removal of undocumented migrants.
The ANC has also raised the issue of foreigners — through its president Cyril Ramaphosa, who lambasted foreign nationals for coming into the country and opening businesses without following the proper channels.
The general feeling among foreign nationals is that xenophobia and xenophobic sentiments were on the increase everywhere, and that South African authorities simply don’t care.
“You think they will respond appropriately when residents burn tyres? This is not the first time this has happened and not the last. These people only care about the elections. They don’t even care for their own. We live with South Africans here and we know they are awfully miserable,” said Prince Albert Dube from Zimbabwe.
Pascal Buti, who was lighting a fire under a pile of trash to block the road, said it was time for action, not words. Asked why he was resorting to burning tyres, Buti said he was igniting the fires of pain which had characterised the existence of the Alexandra community for decades.
“I’m burning because it’s what the people want. I’m an Alexandra resident and everything happening here affects me too. Our problem is housing. I won’t talk about foreign nationals, because I’m not burning here because I’m against foreign nationals. We are all human. I’m burning because our people are suffering. I’m burning because people are starving, because crime is rife and because police and the government are not doing anything,” Buti said.
Residents demanded that Mashaba address them, vowing not to stop protesting until he did so. On Wednesday, Mashaba sent Member of the Mayoral Committee for community safety, Michael Sun, but he incurred the wrath of angry residents who made a number of racist remarks to him.
“We want Mashaba, not you,” Sun was told.
“We really need to see the mayor and tell him exactly what we experience here. My child, imagine – I stay with my boys in the small house and when I’m in the water bathing they know which part of my body I’m washing. Where is the decency?” Zungu asked. DM
Graffiti is actually the plural of graffito.