there’s no turning around
You sat on your bed, hearing old springs creak loudly in the silence. And you took in the emptiness of the large cold room, the full realisation of it washing over you. You were away from home for the first time in your life. Eighteen years old and eager to grow up. The view outside was beautiful, a grand mountain range spreading large motherly arms around the city, as far as the eye could see. You sighed. It was meant to be a sigh of contentment, but all that came out was a nervous rushing of air. Loud in the silence. You moved away from the window, embarrassed, even though you were alone in the room. You couldn’t even express your emotions right – how would you survive here? How would you cook your food, forge friendships, make everyone at home proud of their decision to send you so far away to get a good education? You sighed again – this time more convincingly – picked up your bags and started the long lonely process of unpacking them.
I’m too far from home
You’re out of breath from running to catch the train. Two years later and you can never seem to make it out of bed on time. A rotund black woman with equally round eyeglasses stamps a ticket and hands it to you. Is that a smile or a snarl? You step onto the train, locating your usual place, third row on the left. Slumping in your seat, you fish a book out of your bag, wondering for the hundredth time if you will ever get used to the acrid smell of urine, sweat and fish that pervades the cabin. Still, the third window is one of the two which opens just a crack, offering relief once the train starts moving.
You open the book – glad for the only moment of the day when you can retreat into a world of fiction. You don’t notice the four men – boys, really – who step onto the train in a single file. They are quiet, talking amongst themselves in soft clicks and hushed exclamations. In a moment, the clicking stops. The train is quiet. Too quiet. You look up from the book and turn to where the four boys are standing around one of the passengers. You crane your neck to find the familiar face of a tall gangly man in a shabby suit. You both take this train three days a week – you, out of breath from running, and clutching a totebag of schoolbooks and laptop. He, in the same clean but threadbare jacket, holding an equally wellworn briefcase of notes in one hand.The first time you meet, you smile reserved smiles at each other.
The clicking begins again, loud this time. You see the man in a suit look up at the boys in confusion. His eyes register a slight defiance, retreating steadily in fear as the boys’ questions take on a harsh tone.
Usukaphi? Where are you from, you later find out.
Two brows furrowed in confusion. Eight brows stare back menacingly.
Ndibonise iI.D. yakho? This you can make out. And a cold realisation sets in – these boys are part of it. A wave of xenophobic attacks you have been reading about in the paper for almost a week now. Makeshift homes razed to the ground, immigrants barely making it out alive as they grabbed any of their few possessions to seek refuge in churches and community halls.
The man in a suit is a foreigner. Just like you.
In May 2008, a series of riots started in a township in Johannesburg, when locals attacked migrants from Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, killing 2 people and injuring 40 others. The violence spread in the following weeks to Gauteng and then to the coastal cities of Durban and Cape Town. In a month, 62 were left dead, 21 of whom were South African citizens. Reports showed that local leaders orchestrated the violence in many of these areas.