A four-part investigative series by Al Jazeera looks at the trials and tribulations of the thousands of African refugees who made their way to South Africa, hoping for a chance to restart their lives. Here, they often encounter xenophobic violence and a worrying lack of concern among authorities for their safety and well-being.
In the third instalment of the series, the focus is on one refugee, Beatrice Faida, who fled her village in the conflict-ridden province of Kivu in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Her brother and father were arrested and dragged off by one of the numerous militias operating lawlessly in the DRC. While pregnant with their first child, Beatrice’s husband was detained and tortured. After delivering her second child, Beatrice was certain that her husband was dead and gone. Miraculously, she received word a few months later that her husband was alive and had made his way to South Africa.
Learning that militias were still searching for her husband, Beatrice set out from her home with her children. She brought no documentation and no necessities, just slung her one child across her back and carried the other over 40 kilometers to the town of Uvira before crossing into Burundi. Aided by funds raised by church organizations along the way, Beatrice passed through Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia before finally arriving in Durban, South Africa, where she is reunited with her husband.
Their lives from there did not follow the plot of a happy romantic fable. Xenophobic violence broke out in 2015, a year after Beatrice and her husband had settled in Durban. They spent their days inside, wary of going out into the streets for fear they would be attacked by locals. Her husband’s hair salon was looted during the next riots, forcing them to relocate to Sunnyside in Pretoria. The situation was no less strained, which compelled Beatrice to partake in a mass sit-in with hundreds of other refugees outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in Pretoria.
Sitting under a tarpaulin transformed into a makeshift tent, Beatrice huddled there with her four children. Shagayo Kalondo and her brother Victoire were both born in the DRC; their younger siblings Honda and Mulemera were born in South Africa. None of them have official documentation proving this. Beatrice brought her children to the UNHCR office to demand the UN resettle her family somewhere her children can begin school and receive medical attention.
“South Africa hates us. They don’t love us here. That’s why we must leave,” she said to Al Jazeerah.
Shortly after the story was published, the refugee camp Beatrice squatted in was cleared out by police after a court order ruled it an unlawful gathering.