South Africa is a closed chapter. That was the sentiment of the majority of the 390 Malawians who fled xenophobic attacks in that country and were yesterday reuniting with their families after government successfully ferried them to their respective homes.
The first group of stranded Malawians arrived in the country Monday night with traumatic tales of how they cheated death by a whisker while witnessing several of their fellow foreigners being butchered and beheaded in cold blood.
The returnees, who arrived in a police-escorted convoy of six South African registered buses hired by Malawi Government, appeared flustered and vowed never to return to the Rainbow Nation again.
Upon arriving at Kamuzu Stadium, government officials conducted a screening process to validate their Malawian nationality until the wee hours of Tuesday.
Later, some were driven straight from the stadium to the bus station to connect to their respective homes while the rest were taken to Kwacha Social Welfare camp in Blantyre, the holding centre, to rest before departing for their homes the next day.
Appearing in destitute situation and still shocked, several people who spoke to The Nation vowed never to return to one of Africa’s biggest economies after their harrowing experience over the past days.
Hundreds of Malawians mostly escaping poverty back home trek to South Africa every week in search of jobs.
“I lost nearly everything. What I am carrying is nothing. The precious thing to me and my family is that we are back home with our lives intact otherwise we are done with South Africa those people are beasts not human beings. The other good thing for me is that I laid a foundation here at home so I am not complaining,” said Blessings Matola of Lilongwe’s Area 23 who returned together with his wife and two children aged three and six months.
As of 4pm yesterday, government had repatriated all the 390 Malawians to their respective homes.
Gift Mafuleka, deputy director in the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma), said government provided each returnee with transport money to their final destinations, including lunch and dinner allowances, covering the time spent on the road.
The department, according to Mafuleka, has pre-positioned about 7 000 blankets for the yet to arrive Malawians.
Five other buses left yesterday with more Malawians and are expected to arrive in Malawi tomorrow. Government has budgeted K195 million to evacuate its citizens from South Africa.
According to partial statistics obtained from Dodma, 115 of the returnees were from Mangochi, 34 from Blantyre, 17 from Nkhotakota while Machinga and Nsanje had 10 and 12 each.
Others were from Zomba (10), Lilongwe (11), Ntcheu (four), Balaka (five) and Thyolo had two. Salima, Mulanje and Mzimba had one each. The number could, however, not add up to 390 because some sheets were missing while most of the minors were also not registered, according to Dodma.
Seven years ago, Johannesburg was the epicentre of anti-immigrant tensions that left about 62 foreigners dead in attacks that later spread to other cities like Cape Town. n