26 October 2015
Press Statement from Voices of the Foreigners’ Wives
Urgent Request for Intervention in the Crisis in Grahamstown
We are all wives of men who came to South Africa from other countries. There are more than a hundred of us. Our husbands come from Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe. Most of us are Muslims. We pray at the Mosque on the university campus. People call us ‘the kwarra wives’.
Our husbands came to South Africa from other countries looking for a better life. They are now South Africans. They have IDs and passports. They have the right to vote. Our husbands came here for a better life and they work here and have families here. But they are treated like dogs. Their lives count less than a packet of chips.
For years we have faced serious discrimination, harassment and abuse from small minded people due to being married to men born in other countries and because most of us have converted to Islam. When some men see us in the streets wearing Islamic clothing they ask us why we are married with the ‘kwarras’. They swear at us. Some of the women call us bitches and prostitutes. Some of our children are in Pakistan. Some people say that we sold our children but we sent them to Pakistan for their own safety.
We are doing business with our husbands. The businesses are ours too. Many of us have been robbed. Some people have been killed in these robberies. When the robberies happen we are told that we are also ‘kwarras’ now. Once you are a ‘kwarra’ it seems that you can be freely robbed and even killed in this country.
For some time there have been rumours that a man from Pakistan is killing people and taking their body parts. He is a very friendly man. Everyone knows him. He has been here a long time, twenty years. He was a student at Rhodes University. People then started to say that all the ‘kwaras’ are involved in murder and taking body parts. The focus was on the Muslim shop owners. These rumours were even spread on Radio Grahamstown. The dangers posed by these rumours were raised at a march on the 30thof September and again in a meeting on the 12th of October. However the police and the politicians ignored all requests to come out to the community and give people the proper information.
The attacks on us and on our shops started on the 21st of October after the taxi association had a protest at the City Hall. They had signs on their taxis accusing our men of taking body parts, saying that they must all go and that they must burn.
When the attacks started some of us were able to defend our shops ourselves. But in most cases this was not possible. The attacks began in Bathurst Street and then moved to Beaufort Street and into the location. Some South Africans tried to support us but most shops were looted.
They were not just stealing. Sometimes the shops were vandalized. Some shops have been burnt. The looting was still happening late this afternoon when we met to prepare this statement. More than 300 hundred shops have been looted and destroyed. More than five hundred people have had to leave their homes.
In many cases the police did not help us. In some cases they stood and watched while the shops were looted. In Albany Road the police took all the goods out, put them in the road and told the people to take. In Extension Eight the police didn’t help at all. In Extension Seven some of us saw a police van loaded up with looted food. One police officer driving a van was laughing and telling people to take. However some police officers did try and make sure that we were safe even as they allowed the looting. A large number of looters were arrested.
Hi-Tec helped some people but they couldn’t cope with the situation. They did not help all of us. Some of us want our money back from Hi-Tec.
Many of us were staying behind our shops. When the attackers finished with our shops they came into our homes and took everything. They took our TVs, our beds, our clothes, even our underwear. They left us with nothing. We don’t even have a spoon. They looked for our husband’s passports and tore them up. They made the tearing up of the passports something that everyone could see. They did it outside on the roads.
It was people from our own communities. Our neighbours. The taxi people are pushing the community to do this thing.
We built the shops from scratch. Who will help us? Some of us don’t even have shoes? Who will help us to raise our kids?
Some of us had to run from the school because they wanted to hurt our children. Four of our children were beaten. None of our children are in school anymore. Some of the children are now sick after being in the rain for hours on the 21st. They can’t play outside because it is not safe. They are traumatised. We have to hide our children’s hair under big hats so that they can’t be recognised.
It’s not about the killings anymore. It’s about the business. They people organising this say that the ‘kwarras’ came here to take their business and that the ‘kwarras ‘chose all the beautiful women’. One of the councillors said that ‘the kwarras must fok off. They are eating our business.’ The taxi association has been providing free transport for the looters.
Our husbands had to flee the town on the 21st. They are still staying outside of the town. Many of us haven’t seen them since the 21st. We are staying with friends and families. Some of our children have been sent to the farms.
Before he went to prison Nelson Mandela was in Algeria. Algeria is a Muslim country. Yet we as Muslims are now seen as people who can’t be South Africans.
We are not going anywhere. We are very scared about what is going to happen when we reopen the shops. But make no mistake if we have to we will fight back.
There is no peace in Grahamstown. What has happened to us was destructive, heartless and cruel.
The only people that really helped us in this crisis are the Unemployed Peoples’ Movement and the Economic Freedom Fighters.
Like everyone else in the country we have been very impressed by the students’ struggle. We would also like our children to be able to go to university. The students are fighting for all of us. We are calling on the students to support us.
We are all persons. We must treat each other with respect.
We want peace.
On Friday at 1:00 p.m. we will gather at the City Hall and we will pray outside the City Hall. We will do this to show that we are still here, that we are also South Africans, that we are also part of Grahamstown and to protest against what has been done to us. We are asking the comrades from the Unemployed Peoples’ Movement, the Economic Freedom Fighters, the students and anyone else who believes in justice and that all people should be respected to form a human chain around us as we pray.
We issue the following ten demands:
- Jacob Zuma and his whole cabinet must come to Grahamstown, see what is happening and meet with us to discuss this crisis and a way forward.
- The police, the councillors and the mayor need to communicate clearly with the community about what is happening with the killings. This must happen immediately.
- The media must clearly communicate that rumours about the killings in Grahamstown are not true. Radio Grahamstown must issue an apology for giving space to these rumours and they must convey the correct information.
- There must be a full investigation into the role of police, the taxi association and the councillors in these attacks.
- Home Affairs need to set up a special process to get new passports for our husbands.
- Our husbands need to be safe to be able to come back and open their shops. We need to be safe. Our children need to be safe.
- People must accept the way that we dress.
- The government must give us support to us rebuild our shops, our homes.
- The police must investigate these killings properly and must communicate the progress of their investigation properly.
- The police must investigate the attacks on us as well as the looting of our shops properly.
We are requesting people to help us, our children and our husbands with clothing, toiletries and food. We are also requesting legal support so that we can sue the police and Hi-Tec for compensation as in most cases they did not try and stop the looting. We are also requesting that all churches, trade unions, and community leaders must unite to oppose these rumours and to oppose the attempt to drive us out of Grahamstown.
Barbara-Anne Ali 073 666 3389
Jacqueline Khokam 061 202 0121
Rabiah Hoosin 062 365 7884
Jamila Raaes 074 547 9363
Rehana Naveed 072 257 3445