Thursday, October 05, 2006

Somalis live in fear in South Africa

Sumayya Ismail:

In the early stages of Somalia's civil war, most people had only two options, says Hadith Oslan, a Somali refugee living in Cape Town: to fight or to run. Oslan chose to run, fleeing his country's political turmoil. "I thought I would be safer here," he says.

Oslan (26) left Somalia and his family in 2003, moving to neighbouring Kenya. After saving enough money, he arrived in Cape Town in February 2005 and settled near Bellville. But routine threats and harassment by South Africans who saw him as a foreigner forced him to move to the predominantly Xhosa Masiphumelele informal settlement near Fishoek.

In June 2006, after finally scraping together R35 000, Oslan was able to buy a small grocery shop in the township -- the Mandela Cash Store.

But two months later, a mob swept through the township, looting and destroying Somali-owned businesses. Caught in the rampage, Oslan was on the run again.

"At about 8pm we closed the shop and were preparing to sleep," says Oslan, recalling the night of violence. "A [Somali] lady from across the street came and said people had just ransacked her shop.

"The mob then came to us ... they had pangas and knives and were throwing stones ... they were breaking gates and windows," he said.

"There were maybe about a hundred people, and we were only two guys in the shop."

Still afraid for his life, and having lost almost everything, Oslan says quietly, "I have nothing to go back for."

Recent media reports estimate that over 30 Somalis have been attacked and killed in South Africa in 2006 -- the last incident took place on September 30 in Cape Town's Delft South -- and Oslan counts himself lucky just to be alive.

Ahmed Dawlo, director of the Somali Association of South Africa, said that attacks on Somalis have increased since 1997, when the first case was reported in the Port Elizabeth area.

"People are very fearful ... Cape Town was not the first place ... In the beginning, killings were one a month or so ... but now, it is just out of proportion," Dawlo told the Mail & Guardian Online.

A statement from the South African Human Rights Commission said the pattern of "xenophobic outbreaks" had recently "assumed national proportions".

Attacks on Somalis have been recorded in Knysna, Stellenbosch in the Western Cape, Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape, Diepsloot in Gauteng and Khutsong in the Free State, among others.

According to Department of Home Affairs spokesperson Nkosana Sibuyi, most Somalis are in South Africa as refugees or asylum seekers and reside in townships and informal settlements around the country.

Dawlo, who works and lives in Johannesburg, said townships pose greater risks to Somalis because of the language and culture discrepancies, which appear more noticeable in these areas. He said metropolitan areas, which are generally more cosmopolitan, make foreigners feel safer.

Many Somalis feel they are being targeted, at least partly because of their dissimilarity from South Africans.

Not So Welcome in South Africa

South Africa: Another City Somali Shot Dead

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