(Reuters) – As Alvin Kaidar mingled with the opposition ahead of a shanty town soccer match on a red dirt clearing, he spoke of his fears — not about the upcoming game, but simply of being able to stay alive.
Kaidar, in his early 20s from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was taking part in a match between local South Africans from a nearby township and refugees from a squatter camp, many of whom fear a return of the deadly xenophobic attacks that struck the country in 2008.
“The majority of us foreigners are scared because we don’t have anywhere to run to,” he told Reuters on the sidelines, as players warmed up with a traditional dance and song, on a bright winter’s day.
“We are scared. I wish they would turn their minds so that we can live another life, you know, to be together like Africans. But they don’t like us.
“They all tell us, in the shop, wherever you go, they say these people after the World Cup will just chase us.”
The World Cup in South Africa has fueled a sense of pride in the country and the continent but rumors are rife that the sporadic attacks which killed 62 migrants and left 100,000 homeless in 2008 will resume once the tournament is over.
POTENTIAL FOR VIOLENCE
The potential for violence runs high because the foreign migrants are seen by locals as willing to work for paltry wages, taking away menial jobs and basic services.
A quarter of the South African workforce is unemployed and 16 years after apartheid ended, millions of poor blacks are yet to receive the housing, water, electricity and the improved education they had hoped for.
“This is a good event, it’s bringing people together and it gives hope,” Kaidar said, of the match organized by a Spanish charity Play4Africa and the United Nations Refugee Agency,
“Football is like happiness. It can link people together because it is not often that you find foreigners and citizens coming together.”
The UNHCR regional representative Sanda Kimbimbi, talking to Reuters amongst the swirling red dust kicked up by the players as they ran, said the matches were an opportunity to address the mistrust that had built up.
“South Africa is a country of asylum,” he said. “It’s essentially a migration movement, it’s a search for employment or sometimes (it’s) because of the dire economic conditions, the dire humanitarian situation prevailing in the countries where people come from.
“South Africa is hosting the World Cup. South Africa’s image is excellent and it would be really sad if that image was to be tarnished because of the action of some people.”
The South African Institute of Race Relations estimates the number of African migrants at about five million — equal to the country’s white population.
(Writing by Kate Holton; Editing by Michael Holden)