Solomon Amabo’s home, in a compound on the corner of Fox and Hans streets in Jeppestown, Johannesburg, was targeted during the xenophobia attacks in April 2015. On the evening of Friday 17 April, he was getting ready for bed at 10pm when he heard singing in Zulu. When the singing stopped, there was silence. Then Solomon heard his front door being broken down. “Kwere Kwere, you have to go back. We’re going to kill you!” men screamed.
With the help of neighbours, Solomon managed to escape his house through a back window, and sought refuge on the roof of the compound.
When the police arrived, Solomon was escorted to the Jeppestown Police Station where he opened a case, and spent the night.
Since that night, Solomon’s life has changed.
“I’ve resigned from my teacher’s position. I’m not safe entering Jeppestown. I was attacked in my house, a few metres from the school.”
“If they can attack my house, they can kill me on the streets.”
“They, the tsotsis, don’t value human life.”
Born in Limbé (previously known as Victoria), a coastal town in South-West Cameroon, home to the only oil refinery in Cameroon, in 1978, Amabo completed a B.A in English and French with honors from the University of Buea.
As a journalist he wrote for newspapers, including Eden newspaper, youth magazines and for private radio stations. His focus was on human rights violations, arbitrary arrest and detention, and “the political evolution of the country.”
“It’s a dictatorship in the real sense of the word,” is how Solomon describes Cameroon’s political landscape. President Paul Biya, who came into power in 1982, has held his position for 33 years. Solomon said he was never anti-government, “I speak out my mind. I don’t oppose the government. I stand against evil. The President is the chief of the army and the judiciary.”
Solomon describes President Biya as “absent”, but Biya’s worst legacy, according to Solomon, is that he passed a Bill “which said that to limit the presidential term of office is undemocratic”. This means that the Constitution was modified, and Biya “can rule until he dies.”
Solomon was arrested after he covered strikes at the University of Buea in 2005/2006. The matter is still in court.
“There’s no democracy in Cameroon,” says Solomon.
Despite this, Solomon still wanted to fight the system from within. “I never thought of leaving Cameroon. I wanted to fight the system through my work,” he said.
But he did leave his home country. After Solomon took a governor to court in 2011 for assault, he was continuously harassed to drop the case. Eventually, the 36-year-old along with his wife Ranibelle left Doula, the economic capital. Their 3-year-old twins remained behind with family. They flew via Ethiopia to Mozambique, where Cameroonians don’t need a visa to enter. From there, the couple entered South Africa in November 2013.
“It’s death” Solomon describes the process of crossing the Mozambican-South African border.
He didn’t feel safe since his first day here.
The electric fences surrounding homes stood out. “I realised there’s crime and criminality.”
But Solomon never felt insecure because he was not South African.
“Everyone’s insecure here. They kill even South Africans.
That’s the problem. No one is safe here. ”
For South African Lettie Mangoedi, “nothing” has changed in the quality of her life, since Apartheid days. The 58-year-old mother of three and grandmother of seven children works as a shampooist in a plush hair salon in Rosebank, Johannesburg.
“Before, we used a bucket [toilet]. Since Mandela, we used a flushing toilet. So I thought things will get improved (sic).”
“It gave me strength.”
But 21 years into democracy, Lettie says, “My life is the same.”
“I have no electricity.”
“I was thinking life will change. We applied for new houses. I was excited. I thought our life will be perfect. But we’re still hanging.”
Lettie filled in a C-form in 1995 and was placed on the housing list for a house in Tsotsomani, a township in Old Alexandra. She hasn’t heard anything since.
“I thought maybe life will be changed. Things will come right. But now it’s getting worse.”
“The way I’ve been waiting for so long. I decided to build my own house. I’m 58.”
She has started building a house on a farm in Bela Bela, in Limpopo, while she works in Johannesburg. The building is a slow process, “It’s not finished yet.”
Despite her own struggles, Lettie doesn’t agree with the recent xenophobia attacks on migrants and refugees. “It’s terrible. It’s killing me.”
“Imagine they come into your house and kill you.”
“I feel sorry for them. They are people just like us. They got the same blood as us.”
Solomon does not want to remain in South Africa though. Even though he believes his life is threatened in Cameroon, he wants to go back home.
“Mba! (No!). I don’t want to stay in South Africa. I’m not safe.”