Hillbrow: where locals, foreign nationals live in harmony

Thursday, April 23, 2015

JohannesburgFrom the vibrant shoe repair store ran by an Angolan, a barber shop that belongs to a Zimbabwean, grocery shops owned by Bangladeshis to the hair dressers from Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa who compete for business -- Hillbrow is a melting pot of cultures worthy to be emulated across South Africa.

One can easily see how this place has earned the title of Africa’s most populous square mile. It’s one of Johannesburg first residential areas, and today it’s filled to the brim with multi-storey flats overlooking town.

The area has become the most densely populated cosmopolitan suburb, with bookshops and cafes spilling on to pavements - many of which are owned by foreign nationals.

The harmony between locals and foreign nationals in Hillbrow is a far cry from the hostilities that have played out elsewhere in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal in recent weeks.

Foreign nationals feel welcome here, thanks to locals like Thembi Mbombo originally from Mpumalanga.

“I have never had a problem with foreign nationals. We live together and show each other respect. We eat, dance and some of us are even dating foreign nationals,” Mbombo told SAnews on the sidelines of the People's March against Attacks on Foreign Nationals on Thursday.

A local hairdresser from KZN, who only introduced herself as Zanele, said she was ashamed of the attacks as they did not show humanity. She pleaded with government to intervene and arrest the perpetrators of these attacks.

She called South African youth, who have been participating in the attacks, to be open-minded and to remember what it means to be African.

“Before we can be South Africans, we are Africans and human beings. These people have not done anything wrong by being here...”

The unity and strong bond doesn’t just go one way. Foreign nationals also spoke fondly about their coexistence with locals.

“Here in Hillbrow there is no violence against each other. We treat each other like humans beings, brothers, sisters and Africans,” said hairdresser Olga Chipunza from Zimbabwe, who has been in the country for 15 years.

“The good thing here is that we are still sharing whatever one has… we feel free here,” said Dikembe Gizenga from the DRC.

Despite the solidarity, the nervousness surrounding attacks hasn’t escaped this united community.

A Nigerian street vendor pleaded with government to go beyond putting the perpetrators of violence behind bars.

“Government needs to get to the root cause of these attacks so that they can be addressed for good,” he said, also admiring the swift action taken by government and law enforcement agencies to address the attacks.

United in action

Addressing the People's March, which was attended by churches, universities, NGOs and non-profit organisation, Gauteng Premier David Makhura acknowledged the fact that most foreign nationals were in the country to earn money to take care of their families, while others were in the country due to wars and unrest in their countries.

He said government would live up to its commitment of doing everything possible to calm the situation.

“We want communities to work with us to bring peace back to the country,” he told the hundreds who had gathered for the march.

He said the country must stay united to defeat these attacks as it defeated apartheid.

“We are here to affirm that my sister is my sister. My brother is my brother. This march is an important statement that an attack on anyone is an attack on ourselves,” Premier Makhura told the demonstrators who marched from Pier Roos Park in Hillbrow to Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown.

According to the organisers, more than 100 organisations have endorsed the march. Wits University and the University of Johannesburg closed the institutions for a few hours to allow students to participate in the march.

The multi-coloured and cultural demonstrators from all walks of life held banners with different messages, which all called for humanity and togetherness.

The march was applauded by foreign nationals, who stood on the side of the road and shouted: “Thank you, thank you South Africa”.

Political party members as well as representatives from faith based organisations were also present.

It was song and dance from both locals and foreign nationals at the march as they stood together to affirm that “We Are Africa”. - SAnews.gov.za