BEITBRIDGE — Machete-wielding South African hooligans clad in work suits and safety shoes who were hunting foreigners in that country “like rats” circled Blessing Duri’s shack in Verulam, Durban, at the crack of dawn on April 14.
By Tatenda Chitagu
Duri (26) had heard about the xenophobic violence in other parts of Durban, but he threw caution to the wind as his mind toiled over the idea of fleeing back to his remote rural Honde Valley home in Manicaland province where his parents passed on a decade ago.
Besides, the glaring unemployment in Zimbabwe and grinding poverty meant home would not be best for him.
He is also the breadwinner for his two siblings living with relatives back home.
Rather, he thought, he would manoeuvre the violence as he did when the same attacks hit South Africa in 2008.
But this time, luck eluded him.
Whistling, singing Zulu war songs and shouting makwerekwere, a derogatory name for foreigners, the marauding gang ordered him out of the shack or he would be petrol-bombed inside.
They knew foreigners’ houses and suspected that he was inside.
Apart from that, they knew he had money as Zimbabweans are known to keep cash in their lodgings.
He worked as a private security guard in the sprawling suburb.
“I was paralysed by fear and squeezed myself in my fridge. They forced open the door of my shack and started looting all electricals, my clothes, and started searching for money in my wardrobe.
“He should have money,” one of them shouted in their Zulu language. “All the while, I was almost freezing, I could not take it anymore, but still getting out was not an option. I would rather freeze to death than come out.
“Prophetically, they searched for all my R2 000 savings which were under the mattress. That should have saved me because after that, they never bothered to open the fridge. They also went away with my two smart phones and a laptop.
“Before leaving, they set everything on fire and disappeared in the dark. When their thudding feet faded away, I knew they had gone and got out of the fridge, but then I could not salvage anything. Besides, they would have noticed me if I tried to put out the fire.
“So I sneaked out jumping over the fire and ran in the opposite direction. I was left with only the clothes that I am putting on,” he said, trying hard to hold back his tears.
He said he sought refuge at the garage at his company’s offices where he met other Zimbabwean workmates who were also displaced.
They spent one night there, but the following day, their Indian employer told them to go to the refugee camps set up by the South African government as she feared the thugs would turn on her company.
“She was kind enough and gave me R500 which is just enough to get back to Zimbabwe. She, however, said I can come back and take up my job once the situation normalises. I was to spend nine days at Phoenix refugee camp with other immigrants of different nationalities,” he said.
On Friday, Duri, who was repatriated in the second batch of Zimbabwean survivors, arrived at IOM camp at Beitbridge Border Post aboard one of the five buses.
The first batch had 407 returnees fleeing the violence.
The returnees got counselling and medication while waiting to get food hampers and starter packs.
The starter packs comprised two blankets, groceries, pots as well as smart kits with sanitary wear for ladies.
Zupco buses were waiting to transport them to their provincial capitals where they would be given bus fares by IOM to proceed to their final destinations.
“I will not go back to South Africa, even in the next 50 years. I will have to start afresh here in Zimbabwe,” Duri said, counting his losses.
He is among nearly 1 000 Zimbabweans who have been repatriated back home with government assistance.