They came to South Africa in search of a better life and, for a while, found the promised land. Fungai Chopo got work as a builder, his wife, Memory, was hired as a maid, and they shared a decent house with their two children. The hunger, joblessness and poverty of their home in Zimbabwe was banished.
This week all that changed for the Chopos and for many like them. One night just before midnight about 15 men burst into the family home, clubbed Fungai until he bled, threatened to kill the family and stole all they had, including the HIV medication that keeps Memory alive.
Now the Chopos are among roughly 3,500 immigrants sleeping rough in crowded tents in heavily guarded transit camps not in a Congolese or South Sudanese warzone but in 21st-century South Africa.
Foreigners have fled for safety from a recent eruption of xenophobic violence in which at least five people have died, shops have been looted and torched, and South Africa’s reputation as a haven of tolerance for the tired, the poor, the huddled masses of a turbulent continent has been shaken. “The fabric of the nation is splitting at the seams; its precious nucleus – our moral core – is being ruptured,” the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation said this week.