“I was dragged out of my room with nothing but the clothes I am wearing now. They came for us at midnight and totally destroyed and looted my clothes,” cried Mthokozisi Gumede.
The 23-year-old Zimbabwean national who has been in the country for the past three years, is among dozens of foreign nationals who were kicked out of RDP houses and backrooms in Phola Park, Thokoza, on the East Rand, between Tuesday and yesterday.
“They burned my clothes and my wife’s clothes. They stole new clothes I had bought for my daughter back home. They stole my fridge and television. We had to sleep while standing in the cold at a filling station,” said Gumede, who rented a backroom in the area.
What began as a protest over electricity on Tuesday night spilled over into xenophobic attacks with foreign nationals been chased out of the township.
Foreign-owned shops were looted and property destroyed, beds, clothes and fridges were flung from backrooms rented by foreign nationals and burnt in the middle of the streets.
A handful of police officers, backed up by the army, tried to calm the situation but their numbers were insufficient to deal with the sporadic eruption of violence.
Simangele Dube was salvaging what was left of her belongings in her house when the Sowetan team arrived in the area yesterday.
Dube and her daughter were left shocked as the community ravaged their belongings and burned her husband’s car.
“I was on my way back from buying paraffin when I could see a lot of people surrounding my house and I heard an old lady telling them that foreigners live in that house. I tried explaining to them that my husband is a South African but they hit me on my head.
“They took my television and burned my bed and stole my money. They continued to drag my husband’s car from the yard to the street were they burned it. What hurts me the most is that the old lady that was telling them that we are foreigners is the same lady we bought the house from,” said Dube.
Locals were adamant that they want the foreign nationals out of the township and out of the country, accusing them of stealing their jobs.
One such angry local was Bukelwa Rasmeni, who accused foreign nationals of cheap labour.
“We cannot find jobs in our country because the foreigners charge very cheap for labour. Everywhere you go you find foreigners working there because they charge very cheap.
“We cannot have our own spaza shops because they sell goods very cheap,” Rasmeni said. Another local, Junior Rasmeni, accused the government of putting foreign nationals first.
“It hurts to see a foreigner living in an RDP house when you are still living with your parents or in a backroom. The government should not allow RDP houses to be sold to foreigners.
“We warned them to leave but they refused, so we have decided to chase them away,” he said.
Gauteng police spokesperson Brig Mathapelo Peters said police have intensified their deployment and are on high alert.
She said 20 people have been arrested since the unrest – six suspects were arrested for possession of suspected stolen property and 14 people were arrested for contravention of the Covid-19 Disaster Management Act lockdown regulations in relation to the restriction of movement of persons between 9pm and 4am.
The removal of illegal electricity connections in Reiger Park on the East Rand has sparked violent protests which led to property destruction. Victory Tabernacle Christian Church and St Anthony’s Education Centre were torched on Tuesday and Wednesday night, respectively.
Wayne Vincent Ballikistan, a pastor at Victory Tabernacle, said the church was petrol-bombed just after 7pm on Tuesday.
“We arrived here and found that the place has just been petrol-bombed.”
Ballikistan said the removal of illegal power connections might be the reason the church was attacked.
“People have been striking over service delivery. It started when Ekurhuleni [municipality] pulled out the illegal connections. We have been victims of illegal connections for the last nine years or so.
“When Ekurhuleni came the other day, they disconnected and took out all the illegal connections in the area and that’s when the Joe Slovo informal settlement residents started with the protests.”
David Prinsloo, the operations manager at St Anthony’s Education Centre, said protestors from the informal settlement stormed the centre and set it alight.
“They broke the walls of the premises and … then set vehicles alight and broke electrical boxes,” Prinsloo said.
“They broke into classrooms and took equipment out of there.”
Community leader Peter Pamla said all they want is electricity. “We have been requesting electricity for over 25 years now. We were promised electricity but we haven’t received it.
“We resorted to ‘inzinyoka’ connections to provide ourselves with electricity.”
He denied that the residents destroyed property during the protest.
Gauteng Eskom spokesperson Reneilwe Semenya said the power utility “does not just electrify informal settlements”.
Ekurhuleni municipal spokesperson Themba Gadebe said: “There is a concerted effort to ensure that we trample upon all illegal action around the city so that people that pay are able to enjoy consistent and reliable power supply.”
Police were on the scene yesterday and the situation was calm.