, BLANTYRE, Malawi, Apr 21 – Foreigners fleeing xenophobic violence in South Africa told Tuesday of how they escaped marauding death mobs and vowed never to return to the country where they had sought a new life.
Holding her one-year-old daughter in her arms, Malawian Agnes Salanje said she “faced death” during the wave of anti-immigrant violence that has claimed at least seven lives.
“We could have been killed as these South Africans hunted for foreigners, going from door to door,” Salanje, who was a domestic worker in the Indian Ocean port city of Durban, told AFP.
Nearly 400 Malawian refugees arrived overnight in the city of Blantyre in the south of the country, where they were met by government ministers and officials.
The attacks on foreigners have sparked a wave of anger and protests against South Africa across the rest of the continent. READ: Zulu king denies inciting S.Africa anti-foreigner attacks.
Salanje, who was paid $200 (18,761) a month, said she escaped the attackers after being “tipped off by a good neighbour and we ran to a mosque to seek shelter.”
“I will not go back. It is better to be poor than be hunted like dogs because you are a foreigner,” she said.
“I lost everything. I only managed to grab a few clothes for myself and my baby Linda.”
South African authorities have struggled to contain mobs in the economic capital Johannesburg and Durban who have been attacking foreigners from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and other African countries.
Foreigners are often the focus of resentment among poor South Africans who face a chronic jobs shortage.
Chisomo Makiyi, 23, who worked at a clothes manufacturing factory in Durban, is still puzzled why they were attacked.
“Had I not run away to safety, I would not be here,” she said.
“I just don’t know why all of a sudden they start hating foreigners and giving them two choices – be killed or go home.”
Makiyi pledged to never return to South Africa despite “the good pay of $280 (Sh26,266) a month which back home would be a dream.”
On average, civil servants in Malawi get $100 (Sh9,380) per month while labourers receive only $50 (Sh4,690).
“My life is more important than a good salary,” she said. “I am better off being poor and without a good job than be killed in a foreign land.”