Daily News: Three die in refugee terror

The nightmare is back…The rank denialism of the state last time this happened in Durban has allowed the madness to fester….


Three die in refugee terror
‘Armed mob wanted foreigners’

January 06, 2009 Edition 2


AFRICAN refugees and asylum seekers in Durban’s city centre are living in terror after three foreign nationals died when they were forced from the sixth-floor windows of a block of flats, allegedly by members of the local community policing forum.

Other asylum seekers at the Broad Street building on Sunday evening suffered injury when the drain pipe they were climbing down to escape their attackers collapsed.

While victims say the attacks were driven by xenophobia, police deny this, saying there had been a community policing forum anti-crime drive in the area.

The men who died, two of whom were reportedly from Zimbabwe, and the third from Tanzania, had official refugee status, and were attempting to find work to support their families.


Victor Zowa, 24, of Zimbabwe died on impact. He will never see the two-week-old son his wife gave birth to in Zimbabwe, said his heartbroken brother, Raymond.

A second, as yet unnamed man, attempted to drag himself after his fall into a storeroom, away from his attackers, but died soon after rescue workers arrived.

The third man, 22-year-old Said Omari of Tanzania, died of his injuries at Addington Hospital yesterday afternoon.

Human rights activists have called for a full police investigation into the incident.

After a series of police spokesmen declined to comment on the incident, KZN police spokesman Muzi Mngomezulu finally said the attack was not being regarded as xenophobic in nature.

“It was the community policing forum of the area who were on a venture for criminal elements because people in that building are alleged to have committed robbery and house breaking,” he said.

Mngomezulu said a case of murder and attempted murder had been opened. He said no arrests had been made.

The CPF chairman for the area, who declined to provide his name, said he was unaware of the incident because he had been out of the area.

Witnesses said the armed men and women responsible for the attack were locals. They brandished bush knives and knobkieries, blew vuvuzelas and demanded that the “kwerekwere” (a derogatory term for foreigners) jump from sixth floor windows or they would push them.

Those who did not comply were flung out of smashed windows and fell to their deaths in a courtyard six floors down, witnesses said.

Businessman Omar Osman is the owner of the apartment block, known as Venture Africa, on the corner of 38 Broad Street and 5-9 Baker Street, where the xenophobic attack occurred. A former Kenyan citizen himself, he is deeply shocked by the deaths of men he referred to as “like sons to my wife and I”.

Osman’s premises are occupied by locals and foreign nationals. The building is a haven for refugees from neighbouring countries who are referred there by, among others, Lawyers for Human Rights, the Menonite Central Committee and Refugee Pastoral Care.

The eThekwini council also used the building to house displaced people during last year’s wave of xenophobia.

According to Osman, the trouble began on Saturday night, before exploding into mayhem on Sunday.

“At about 11.30pm that night, my manager contacted me to tell me that armed men had entered the dormitories and were demanding to know who was a ‘kwerekwere’. They said they were working with the police.

“When I asked officers at the Broad Street Police Station two doors down from my building to intervene, the officer on duty told me ‘they are from the forum. Don’t worry about it.’

“The police did not come, and after a while the intruders left, but they were back on Sunday, and it resulted in this terrible tragedy.”

Osman’s manager, who has requested anonymity in fear for his safety, said: “At 10.45pm the gang came back, and started beating men, women and children.

“There was a stampede, screaming, the sound of breaking glass. It was a nightmare. Everyone feared for their lives.”

The manager called Osman for help. “He said there were bodies in the courtyard, that people had been thrown from the windows,” Osman said.

Omar said he could not comprehend the motive behind the attack. “These are other Africans, refugees. They have committed no crime. They come here for shelter from the horrors they have experienced in their own countries, and this is how we treat them.”

Advocate Sherylle Dass of the Durban Refugee Service Providers Network, and Jody Kollapen, national chairman of the South African Human Rights Commission, have spoken out against Sunday’s events. Dass is counselling families of the deceased and has urged other witnesses to come forward with information.

“We strongly protest the manner in which this community forum has taken the law into its hands by assaulting, intimidating and harassing alleged foreigners who it claims has been involved in criminal activities,” she said.

“We can confirm the majority of residents in the apartment block are legally documented asylum seekers. The attack on them was totally uncalled for.”

She called on the police and National Prosecuting Authority to hasten the prosecution of the alleged offenders.

“If they do not expedite the investigation and prosecution, we believe it will escalate into further xenophobic attacks in the city,” Dass said.

Jody Kollapen said the SAHRC condemned the xenophobic attacks and the vigilantism and expected police to act if foreigners were involved in criminal activities.

“This does not give South Africans the right to take the law into their own hands. It is clear from the xenophobic attacks last year that we still have a long way to go,” he said.

“Community forums cannot take the role of policing, but they have to be accompanied and monitored by police.”