It’s tough for refugees in South Africa‚ but it’s often tougher back home

21 June 2018 - 07:00 By Lwandile Bhengu
A man produces his South African identity document after being attacked by a group of men during an organised “Anti-Foreigner”march in Pretoria on February 24 2017.
A man produces his South African identity document after being attacked by a group of men during an organised “Anti-Foreigner”march in Pretoria on February 24 2017.
Image: James Oatway

He might have stared death in the face when he fell victim to xenophobic violence in Durban three years ago‚ but this doesn’t mean that Democratic Republic of Congo refugee Hussein Kabango will return home any time soon.

His reason? Life in South Africa is still less dangerous than in his home country.

Speaking on World Refugee Day on Wednesday‚ 32-year-old barber Kabango‚ said: “I know I can never go back home because it is far more dangerous there then it is here.”

During the xenophobic attacks in 2015 Kabango - who lives with his wife Clarice and their two-year-old daughter in Isipingo‚ south of Durban - was attacked by a group of men who struck him in the head and stabbed him in the hand.

This week‚ five men who were part of an 800-strong mob who took part the xenophobic violence – which spread across Durban‚ starting in Isipingo – were sentenced to seven years each behind bars. The sentences are believed to be one of the toughest for a public violence charge.

Kabango told TimesLIVE that fled his the DRC during civil unrest in 2008 and spent three years moving from country to country. In 2011‚ he moved to South Africa.

And despite that violence in 2015‚ he said his experience in South Africa had not always been negative.

“I remember when I first got my permit and I was told that I would be able to live here‚ to find work and to be able to send my children to school here; being able to go to church and be with my family and know that we are safer here then we were back home.”

Kabango’s South African dream is not yet complete‚ because a member of his family is still missing.

“I haven't seen my oldest daughter since she was two-years-old. It makes me sad that I am unable to bring her to the country‚” he said.

Kabango’s daughter‚ now nine‚ is still in the DRC with his mother.

He is among 22.5-million people worldwide who have fled their homes because of conflict‚ persecution‚ violence or natural disasters.

“These refugees seek a safe havens in neighboring countries and beyond‚where they need the most basic elements of life: food‚ security‚ medical care and a place to sleep‚” said international humanitarian medical NGO‚ Doctors Without Borders(MSF) as they marked World Refugee Day.

“Refugees battle terrible memories of home as they tell heart-rending stories and traumatic events that took place as they fled. Many recount stories of brutal violence perpetrated against them and how they had to flee for the lives‚ leaving behind family and belongings. Many people don’t know the fate of their loved ones since they were separated during their flight‚” said the organisation in a statement.