Xenophobia in South Africa’s healthcare system – the story of a Burundian nurse

Burundi is currently embroiled in a political crisis that has already seen more than 100,000 people flee to neighbouring countries. But conflict is not new to Burundian people. At least 300,000 people were killed in a civil war that spanned 1993 to 2005, while thousands of others sought refuge in neighbouring countries, like South Africa. In the last remaining camp for foreigners displaced by violence in Durban, in Chatsworth, aid workers say Congolese and Burundian refugees are stranded and unable to return home.

For people like Elvira Modesero, a Burundian nurse working in South Africa,  life in South Africa has shielded her from Burundi’s troubles, but it has also been complicated by xenophobia.

Speaking to MSF South Africa, this is Modesero’s story:

My name is Elvira Modesero. I’m from Burundi. I’m a refugee since 2004. I came to South Africa after the killing and insecurity in Burundi.

My first experience – I had it in 2008 with the xenophobia.

I started to be a nurse because my father was killed in Burundi. And when he was shot, he called for help and no one was there. We didn’t basic care that we could have done to save him. And I said to myself: “I will do nursing so that I can save somebody’s life.” Because I saw my father dying – I still remember that day.

It was on 21 October 2000. He was shot inside our house. And we couldn’t even…

So I studied to be a nurse to save lives.

I studied here in South Africa at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Druban. I worked at Addington Hospital and I’m working at St Mary’s Hospital in Pinetown, Marianhill.

At my work, everyone is coming – Burundian, South African, Nigerian, everyone, they come. And I treat them altogether. But sometimes when we treat them, they say: “You kwerekwere, why you don’t come and help me?” And you’re giving care to somebody that does not even consider you.

Here at the camp there was a lady who was pregnant and she was about to deliver. The policemen that were guarding us, they refused to help us ’til the lady delivered on the gate of the hospital.  The mother still had the cord inside the placenta and somebody was carrying the baby without any gloves.

The nurses they said: “Put the mother on the bed.”

They didn’t even come and cut the cord. The mother was bleeding – she could’ve died.

God loves refugees. I believe it’s because Jesus was also a refugee.

For me, I don’t think that I’m Burundian or South African. I’m a human being, a creation of God. So, I cannot like, separate myself from South African and I, Burundian. The same blood is flowing in us and we are unique. No one is able to take… to give life or to take it away from somebody. So we’re all the same.

Watch the video:

– Featured image: screengrab from the video.