Malawi: Govt Repatriates Citizens Targeted in South Africa

About 75 of the Malawians displaced by recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa have returned home. Malawi's government repatriated them on Thursday, after they spent weeks at a guarded camp in Johannesburg.  Some say they will never go back to South Africa.  Others are not so sure.

Gladys Majawa left Nkhatabay district in northern Malawi five years ago to start a new life in South African's commercial capital, Johannesburg.

“I left for South Africa alone because of poverty at home,” Majawa said. “Some of my friends [who go to South Africa] had an opportunity to raise money to build houses. That's why I also decided to seek a fortune there."

But attacks on foreign nationals in Johannesburg early this month forced Majawa to cut short her plans to stay in South Africa until next year.

Recent violence left 12 people dead and shops looted. Majawa's family scattered in the mayhem.

"I even don't know where the father of my children is because each one of us was running in different directions,” Majawa said. “I only cared about my children and my life. I picked my three children and run for safety.”

Majawa had been working as a house maid. Now, she says she has no plans to go back to South Africa.

“I don't like the place anymore,” Majawa said. “I had a bitter experience, I have lost interest. There are very cruel people in South Africa."

The World Bank says more than half of Malawi's population lives below the poverty line, and about a quarter of them survive on less than two dollars a day.

For many, migrating to South Africa as a domestic laborer is their only option to escape poverty.

That fact appears to have prompted some Malawians to remain in South Africa, despite threats to their safety.

“The ones that were displaced were 113 and the people that have turned up here are only 76,” said Wilson Moleni, Commissioner for Disasters. “And the rest have gone back to their communities because this was a voluntary repatriation."

Back home, some victims like Winisi Umari are undecided on whether they will go back to South Africa one day.

“I can't say for certain that I will return or not,” Winisi Umari said. “I am still energetic right now. What I can say is that it will take two or three years before I make a decision."

The Malawi Red Cross Society, which provided temporary shelters for the repatriated victims, says it will continue to assist them as they reintegrate into Malawian society.

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