A South African-based Zimbabwean man said his ability to speak the Pedi language saved him from being killed by a mob that was raiding homes of suspected illegal immigrants in Diepsloot on Wednesday night.
The man in his mid-40s, whose name could not be revealed for fear of victimisation, said he first heard people shouting “passport or ID in hand” and banging on shacks at about 10 pm.
He said he then left his shack to avoid them knocking on his door, shouting “go diragalang? (what’s happening?).” Said the man:
After picking up my Pedi accent, they asked me to join them in their raids. I did because I was petrified.
They were a group of about 50 men, armed with pangas, axes and golf sticks. I was totally not aware of what was to happen.
He said the vigilantes spotted his neighbour, Elvis Nyathi, running away from his shack and gave chase.
Unfortunately, the gang caught up with the Zimbabwean and began beating him with a golf club.
The man, who said he has been friends with Nyathi for six years, said the mob dragged Nyathi to a nearby street where they set him alight. Added the man:
I tried to ask them not to assault him but they wouldn’t listen. Then I realised if I persist in pleading for his life, they might realise that I have a relationship with him, so I stopped.
They put him in the fire. I do not think he was alive by then. While we were there, the TRT [Tactical Response Team] unit came and dispersed the mob.
It was the most painful experience I have ever had in my life, seeing an honest man being killed like a criminal.
The Zimbabwean man, who is a construction worker and has been in South Africa since 1991, said he is now living in fear. He said:
There is someone in our space who is giving information to these people on which homes to raid. They only targeted specific homes and left others.
That is what makes me uncomfortable even speaking to you because I do not know who is watching us.
Nyathi (43), was killed on Wednesday night after he had hidden behind his shack.
His brother Godknows said his brother was in a panic when he ran.
Another Diepsloot resident told The Sowetan that he saw the warning signs of the raids on Wednesday.
According to the man, some members of the community said they’d be searching for people without SA IDs at night.
As a result, on Wednesday night he decided to sleep with his clothes on.
He said the gang knocked on his door but left when they realised that they knew him.