Xenophobic attacks in Philippi: “It’s like they can’t even think we are human like them”

Looting and xenophobic violence erupted after protestors from the Ses’Khona People’s Rights Movement clashed with Somali nationals in Bellville on Tuesday. Foreign nationals in Bellville fled and the clashes soon spread to Philippi, where the looting continued on Wednesday. One person has reportedly been shot and killed, and at least 11 arrests have been made. RA’EESA PATHER spoke to members of the community where the looting continued on Wednesday.

Femi_RPFemi Olumide, 47, shop owner, Lower Crossroads, Philippi
Last night [Tuesday] around 7pm someone came and told me they [looters] are coming, so I tried to close the shop, but there were a lot of them. They had knives and hammers, and they were just saying “Somalia, Somalia, Somalia must go”. One guy broke my hand, he just pushed me over. They broke the roof and they took everything out. There’s nothing left. I am from Nigeria; they’re attacking Somalis, they’re attacking Nigerians, they’re attacking everybody. I’m a resident here, I’m married with two children, and this is my home. But now I don’t even have shoes – I was running for my life. It’s traumatising, it’s like they can’t even think we are human like them.

Spamandla Matu_RPSpamandla Matu, 19, unemployed, Marikana, Philippi
I’m looking for money, man. The Somalis must go from here, because we don’t have a job, we don’t have a house, we don’t have money. We don’t have nothing! I took a lot of stuff last night: PowerAde, amasi [fermented milk], airtime, and now I’m looking for scrap metals. I’m here because I don’t have any choice. Last night, I saw it’s open, I saw all the people inside [the shop], they were taking some things, [I thought] I must take for myself too. I know it’s a crime, but what must I do? It’s the way things are.

Charmaine_Mkoni_AHCharmain Mkoni, 36, Ses’Khona member, Marikana, Philippi
It was a Somali guy that started the whole problem. We were protesting in Bellville, and a Somali driver knocked over a journalist. One of our guys jumped on the bonnet of the car to avoid being hit, and the Somali guy drove off with him, so our protestors chased after them. It’s not xenophobia, it’s a Somali that drove over a journalist. Xenophobia is trying to tell us we are fighting with foreigners, but we can’t fight. I am from Zimbabwe – I was born here in South Africa but my great-grandfather is Zimbabwean. So, this is not about xenophobia, it’s about a Somali who knocked over a journalist by mistake. I was here all night last night: people were trying to get the other people who stole stuff released from jail, which is wrong. If an incident happens, it doesn’t mean we have the right to steal from Somalis.

Marikana-AH-2Babalwa Mafunda*, 32, Philippi East
I heard a noise at 3am, but I didn’t know what was going on because I was in the house and I was scared to go outside. I heard a noise like they were burning things. They took everything from that Somali shop. There was also a coloured lady, they broke into her place. She has a child – I think he is six or seven years old – they took all the stuff, all his clothes and books, he didn’t even go to school today. Her and the Somali were renting the same place, so they went through the shop into her house. I’m scared that we are going to be starving now, because the Somalis were helpful. Now we have to go a long way to buy bread from the shopping centre. Today, our kids didn’t have lunchboxes, because there was no place to buy bread for them. Some of us don’t want the Somalis to leave, but there’s nothing we can do because of the community. This community is dangerous.

Abdurahman_AHAbdurahman Gurhan, 35, shop owner, Khayelitsha
They robbed my brother. They broke in and took everything. My brother says this is happening all over South Africa. It doesn’t surprise him. We are not happy, we come to South Africa to make a new life. But here, they can rob us, they can even kill us just because we Somali. We are very afraid. They came with stones, some of them had guns and machetes. Some of the Somalis were beaten, they said to them: “Don’t kill us”. Afterwards, we ran away. That’s why we are safe now.

*Name has been changed
– Voxes have been edited for brevity and clarity

– Featured image by Ashraf Hendricks. Profile pictures by Ashraf Hendricks and Ra’eesa Pather.