Charles Lee Mathews

This is the way the world ends

The first thing I notice about the people lining up for food is their eyes. They have those eyes. The eyes that TS Elliot spoke about in his poem The Hollow Men.

“The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms”
The Hollow Men, Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965)

As I speak to the Zimbabweans taking refuge, all I can say over and over again is: “I am sorry. I am sorry.” I am in an old tyre yard in Marabastad, Pretoria, with the Institute for Islamic Services who has been feeding these people daily, and caring for their basic needs. When I was packing earlier in the morning I was concerned that the foam mattresses I was taken with were slightly soiled. Arriving at the old tyre yard I learn that people have been using the old tyres to keep themselves warm. That or cardboard. They are lucky. They have relative shelter. A corrugated roof to keep the rain out, although the yard where they sleep is exposed to the elements.

Alongside the tyre yard there’s a field. More Zimbabweans sleep here in make shift tents, shelters or simply under a sheet of plastic on the floor. In the tyre yard I speak to Tawanda, who says he was living in Atteridgeville when he started hearing rumours of pending attacks against foreigners as far back as two months ago. “People went to attend a rally with Jacob Zuma early this year, and at the rally he said he was not going to accept foreigners in South Africa because they are committing crime and taking jobs,” he says.


“After that there were rumours that foreigners would be attacked. Then in the night we heard people coming. They were singing Umshini Wam (Bring Me My Machine [Gun]). They came to my place and set it alight. I took my radio and ran. From a distance I watched them loot my place. I saw the sticks and panga’s. I saw my home burning. There was nothing I could do. I lost everything. Like everyone here I lost everything.”

While writing this piece, I scoured the net for references of the African National Congress (ANC) president speaking out against foreigners in Pretoria. Jacob Zuma gave his first major speech after taking the helm of the ANC on January 8 at Atteridgeville’s Super Stadium in Pretoria. However none of the media reports reference anything about him speaking out against foreigners. The speech largely focused on unity following derision within the ANC.

At the old tyre yard where Tawanda is staying with sixty or so other Zimbabweans there is a broken toilet and access to a tap. However at least there is some shelter, unlike his fellow countrymen who are living in a field a couple of hundred metres away. Martin and Shalom are two of the victims of violence who are sleeping out in the open. Their only comfort, a piece of plastic sheeting and some blankets.

open field

They sleep under the sheeting with a friend in the rain and cold. They ablute in the open field and wash in a stream nearby. A bank teller, Martin fled Zimbabwe to escape the violence there. He is studying at Unisa and believes that he will one day become an accountant. When asked what he thinks started the violence he says: “Poverty, joblessness and crime. But don’t worry, God is with us. This is life. This is just life.”


“This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”
The Hollow Men, Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965)

The Institute for Islamic Services is looking for blankets for victims of xenophobic violence. If you are in the Pretoria area and can help please call them on Yusuf Mustafa on 012 374 1584 or 072 158 4088.

If you are a member of the media or are blogging about victims of xenophobic violence, please feel free to use the photographs here. They are free for commercial and non-commercial use with attribution.

  • Siphiwo Qangani with Kangaroos

    At least we are seeing health humans on your pictures…I have seen a cartoon by Zapiro (Sunday Times 25.05.2008) I don’t understand whether he wants people to laugh at such inhuman behaviour. Because I couldn’t get any idea why people can draw such horrible scenes…Zapiro has no feelings-if he does, I believe it has a tail just like a spade in the cards.
    After we’ve seen what happened in Alex, I don’t believe that we need any reminder especially from the wit cartoonists. The picture is not only inappropriate for our sight but it further perpetrates more violent to people who cannot comprehend our languages.
    We don’t need to make any laughing stock of “poor” foreigners…they had enough already.

  • Perry Curling-Hope

    Well chosen, Mandy!

    These words bear an ominous and chilling relevance for the destiny of humanity.

    Fully a third of all urban dwellers worldwide, over a billion people, live in undeveloped or underdeveloped housing settlements, mostly in the ‘developing’ world.
    The imperatives driving further urbanization are mounting rather than abating, and has overwhelmed states and civil societies far better resourced than South Africa.

    The inhumanities endured by these ‘unwanted’ people are universal, of which xenophobia is but one.

    ‘Xenophobia’ outbreak as Italy begins drive against crime

    The world now faces an inexorable dwindling of the very resources it requires to afford a decent life for all.

    These words are as tragic as they are prophetic.

  • Eugene Marais

    Yes, it is horrific, but if 6 to 10 million Zulus arrived in Maputo competing for already depleted resources, what do think would happen?
    It is wrong, but I understand where they are coming from.
    The blame lies squarely at the door of government.
    Not the IFP or some imagined right wing contingent.

  • esvl

    At last a post on thoughtleader I find worth reading. And you are even using pictures.

    This story is tragic. It almost seems like I am reading something from Rwanda or some other African country, but this is South Africa. It almost feels unreal reading and seeing that this is happening in the once “rainbow” nation that now is the sharp end of Africa that stabs those that run here for safety.

    I know they might be taking jobs etc but that only means they are willing to work for what they want and need.

  • me

    Ammm Eugene if 6 – 10 million Zulu’s arrived in Maputo they would out number every Mozambiquen man woman and child by 2 to 1, my guess is they would reek havoc….Siphiwo what the hell are you on about, Zapiro is a cartoonist he may not be up to your taste but I doubt he is inciting violence.

  • Mandy de Waal

    @Siphiwo Qangani: They are healthy (physically) but haunted. And they have lost everything. However the people living in the open field, I reckon they won’t be healthy for that long. Bathing in a polluted stream, sleeping on soil under a plastic sheet and abluting in the open can’t be healthy for anyone after a couple of days in this weather.

    @Perry Curling-Hope: It chilled me to read TS Elliot after coming back from Marabastad. Although there is an intense focus on victims of xenophobia, you are so write. For many people who live in this country homelessness, joblessness and poverty are a way of life.

    @Eugene Marais: Zimbabwe, Mozambique and many other African countries were home to South African exiles for many years. I am not sure of the numbers, but our people were always well treated there. Even when it meant risk to life and property to the peoples of those countries. Then the foreign nationals didn’t arrive here en masse. But that is a completely different story, one which Home Affairs and those who bungle our border control will have to answer for.

  • Tjedza M

    You cannot condone someone who tears down a person’s home, a person’s life, and even be so bold (or cold) as to say ” i understand where they are coming from”

    Until you are in that position of poverty and utter dejection ( on the side of the victim or even the offenders) there is no possible way you can relate to these attacks.

    The world thrives on competition, you are the ones who chose capitalism as a way of business/life- and in a capitalist system jobs are not finite. Competition drives economies- but of course the man on the street doesnt know that. This is all the government’s fault- there is so little communication/sharing of education between government and the people.

    In addition whether or not Zuma actually said that foreigners are to be expelled- it is important that in this atmosphere of glorious ignorance ( in S.A) for leaders to educate their supporters, to be careful of inferences, to be mindful of every word, every action.

    I love that poem… by t.s elliot.
    the truth still hurts though and glares at us every day- This is the way the world ends.

  • jose barreira

    @Eugene Marais
    If 6 to 10 million Zulus arrived in Maputo – including some higher skilled workers – it could happen that local gov would succeed to increase economy by a few points (…)
    By the way, how many mozambicans do you think were used to build Mozal? And Temane gas extract stations and pipeline?

  • Aleta

    Thanks for your moving article. Many of us in Swaziland are saddened and horrified at what is happening and I started a collection today to raise funds to buy blankets, which we hope will help a little bit.

  • Mandy de Waal

    @esvl: Thanks for your thoughts. Appreciated.

    @Tjedza M: Some interesting insights there. And I agree with what you say about capitalism. The economic engines we have built are alienating and have sought to look out community commerce, and the ability to survive outside of the system. Modern capitalism is also predicated on extreme self interest which pits adversaries against each other, which is replicated in society mores and norms. I think we need to recreate our economic systems to be more inclusive. But how – that is the question. Your comment was very thought provoking.

  • Lyndall Beddy


    There were a few thousand ANC in exile in Africa, most of them in training CAMPS, not competing with the locals for jobs or houses or women. And they WERE treated with suspicion by the locals.

    However, there is one silver lining. If anyone was trying to herd the Zimbabweans back – it has not worked. They are heading for Zambia, Botswana and Mozambique.

    Are Mbeki and the wimps at SADC still going to say that this is an internal matter in a sovereign state, not right for the UN security Council, and no threat to stability in the region?

  • Lyndall Beddy

    An expert speaking on SAFM said that these outbreaks are all occuring where the ANC has branches and asked “what has the ANC not been doing?”

    Maybe the question should be “what HAS the ANC been doing”. These killers are all young and all singing Zuma’s song. What have the ANC Youth League’s new pro-Zuma leaders said?

  • rockvillian

    @Tjedza M, competition?

    What has happened to the people from Zim and all the other foreighn nationals is very sad to see and shouldnt have happened. What we have now is a situation where the very poor of this country , who soley rely on “handouts” and donations are now “competing” for these with foreighn nationals. I persononally don’t think this is good competition and this will lead to more of the poor people resenting foreighn nationals and Tjedza the world thrives on “eliminating” competition. eg. OPEC, USA, ZANU PF, etc. Suddenly everyone is an expert on what discrimation can do to people and the psychological impact it has, in S.A we have millions of poor hungry black people because of our awful past, go to Alex and any other township, you’ll see them.
    If everyone really cares and is really willing to help especially we the “touched” and very “anti xenophobic” middle class, lets adopt foreighners into our homes and neighbourhoods, give them proper shelter till things get better in Zim since we really care and they “took care of our leaders in exile”. I dont see anyone willing to do that(prove me wrong). Saying sorry has never helped anyone.

    Currently I don’t see any person from exile giving any Zimbabwean shelter, but we all expect people who were’nt in exile to do just that to do just that, and that is sad. Lets help everyone and get involved in helping our people(South-Africans)in particular, after seeing what has happensd I’m sure everyone agrees that they really are the one’s in desperate need of help.

  • Mandy de Waal

    @Lyndall Beddy: Thanks for your comments. In terms of the ANC exiles in Africa, for me the debate here is not about numbers. Rather about concepts. ANC exiles were harbored in African countries at great threat to those countries. If you recall the SADF sent covert missions to those countries and many locals were bombed or killed in the SADF efforts to exorcise exiles during apartheid. I believe that the sheer number of illegal and other immigrants is a failure on the part of border control and home affairs. Those government departments have failed the immigrants along with all South Africans. They need to be called to answer for their failure.

    And the SAFM report is interesting but the ANC stopped their NEC one day short to move into trouble area. My view is that it is too little to late, but they ANC has been doing something. (Although in my view not enough. Not near enough.)

  • Mandy de Waal

    @Aleta: Thanks for your comments and what you are doing.

  • Human Writing

    An excellent article.

    I have to draw readers’ attention to today’s ‘Herald’ editorial from Zimbabwe.

    They, presumably ZANU (PF) are mocking South Africa in order to make political capital.

    This is the thanks Mbeki gets for shielding Mugabe. It’s too humiliating for words.

  • C’est moi

    @Qangani le kangaroo
    Cartoons aren’t by definition for laughing at. I went to look at the Zapiro cartoon which offended you and it is an extremely poignant political statement.

  • C’est moi

    We may well start believing in the end of the world what with food riots, the pacific ocean rapidly turning into plastic soup, the carbon build up in the atmosphere becoming hyperbolic and now China’s earthquake exposing radiation leaking from the ground. I hear there was another massive earthquake in Bogata. Where is that? Also Pacific or is it SAmerica? No time for google!! What I don’t get is the awesome power and efficiency with which China sorted out their earthquake victims but could/did they not help Burma with Irrowaddy Delta victims? Is it not they are the prop behind Burma’s military junta? Sorry for the sidetrack!

  • Lyndall Beddy


    This fiction about the ANC in exile must be cleared up.Oliver Thambo and Mbeki were in LONDON. I think Mbeki’s wife studied in NEW YORK. Mugabe’s wife was in SWEDEN. They, and all their families and dependents, were supported by Christian Action, who also raised ALL the money for the legal defense in the court cases, all raised in EUROPE!

    Also we do not have a capitalist society. We do not have a socialist society. We have an oligarchy, an elite, also a kleptocracy. Aristotle called this one of the worst forms of government.

  • Oldfox

    @Human Writing,

    I followed the link to the Herald and got the article: Xenophobia: Evil excuse for laziness

    What exactly do you not like about this article? I thought it was very informative.

  • Mandy de Waal

    @Lyndall Beddy: It is no fiction, it is historical fact. If you go through the ANC history you will see exactly which countries aided the struggle and how. While some of the ANC elite were housed in Europe, much if not most of the action took place on African soil.

  • Lyndall Beddy


    ANC history or ANC propaganda?

    Why not quote the books so I can read them?

  • Mandy de Waal

    Hi Lyndall. These books may prove useful:

    “Education in Exile: SOMAFCO, the African National Congress School in Tanzania, 1978-1992″ by Sean Morrow, Brown Maaba, and Loyiso Pulumani

    “Apartheid South Africa and African States: From Pariah to Middle Power, 1961-1994″ (International Library of African Studies)

    “Comrades Against Apartheid: The ANC and the South African Communist Party in Exile” by Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba (Paperback – Mar 1, 1992)

    “South Africa Belongs to Us: A History of the ANC” by Francis Meli
    Published by: Edinburgh University Press

    “THE ANC IN EXILE” ELLIS Afr Aff (Lond).1991; 90: 439-447

    “The African National Congress” (Sutton Pocket Histories)

    “African Nationalism from Apartheid to Post-Apartheid South Africa: A critical analysis of ANC Party Political Discourse” by Ellen Wesemüller

    “Slovo: The Unfinished Autobiography of ANC Leader” by Joe Slovo

    For online references go here:

    ANC Lusaka Mission

    ANC Zimbabwe Mission:

    Geraldine Joslyn FRASER-MOLEKETI : ANC in exile in Zimbabwe:

    Bessie Head : ANC Exile and refugee in Botswana:

    Joe Gqabi assassinated while in exile in Zimbabwe in 1981

    Jama Mbeki disappeared in exile in Africa:

    I have run out of time now, but let me know if you require any further historical accounts of the ANC in exile in Africa. I am sure you are aware of the fact that the ANC did not only include Thambo and Mbeki.

  • Lyndall Beddy


    Thanks. I just hope our little library has a few of them.

    Sorry – I don’t trust websites.

  • Mandy de Waal

    @Lyndall Beddy: A number of books are available are available online thanks to Guttenburge Press Project, so your assertion that you can’t trust the Web doesn’t make sense.

  • Lyndall Beddy


    I have never heard of Guttenburge Press. Thanks. Will Google it.

  • Lyndall Beddy


    Google can’t find Guttenburge Press Project, or Gutenburg Press Project. Can you give more detail please?

  • Oldfox

    Project Gutenburg

  • Lyndall Beddy


    Thanks – will check it out tomorrow.

  • Lyndall Beddy


    Very interesting. Has all the classics. But NO use to me – none of the 20 books I want to buy are on it – they are all still subject to copyright.

  • Mandy de Waal

    @Lyndall Beddy: My point was that good books, classic books are available on line. Ergo you can trust the Web. But like life, you just need to be circumspect.