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Feature on anti-Mozambican xenophobia

[SWAZILAND] Mozambican street vendors. IRIN
Mozambican street vendors in Swaziland
On an unseasonably balmy mid-winter day that seemed more like seaside Maputo than mountainous Mbabane, Mozambican nationals marched to their embassy to protest discrimination they said they suffer in Swaziland. The largest organised protest to be mounted by Mozambicans in the kingdom occurred last week, triggered by the deaths of two Mozambican street vendors at the hands of rangers - municipal ordinance enforcement officers - in the commercial city of Manzini. "We are being killed for nothing. Right now, there are seven dead Mozambican bodies at the Manzini mortuary, and they are all victims of rangers," a spokeswoman for the group told embassy officials. "We are liaising with the Manzini police to try to establish the cause of these deaths," Mozambique's ambassador to Swaziland, Zacchious Kupela, said in a statement. Kupela was summoned by Manzini police to help identify the body of Maria Tembe, a street vendor who died when struck by a car while fleeing city rangers who sought to confiscate her wares. A second vendor was reportedly dragged by city rangers to a shack, where he was severely beaten. He died in hospital while undergoing treatment. Mozambicans residing legally and illegally in Swaziland told IRIN they have had enough of the violence and discrimination they claimed were common. "They are killing us! Why? Today, we will kill them!" chanted 100 Mozambicans outside the Manzini police station where city rangers linked to Tembe's death were being questioned. The protestors said they would give the police until the end of this week to turn over the bodies of the vendors for burial in Mozambique. Mozambicans usually keep a low profile in Swaziland. But tensions are not far below the surface and can bubble up, especially in the competition between Swazi and Mozambican vendors for customers, and when the city rangers confiscate the goods of unlicensed vendors, many of whom are from across the border. According to the Mozambique embassy in Mbabane, some Mozambicans who are in the country do not obtain the necessary licenses because they have no residency documents. The embassy estimates that 60,000 Mozambicans reside in Swaziland. "A lot are illegal, and they fear if they give us their names we will turn them over to the police, which we don't do. A lot come over the border to be with friends, and stay six months before they get bored and leave," senior embassy official Adrian Aristides told IRIN. But most Mozambicans come to seek work opportunities in Swaziland. Despite its lacklustre economy and widespread poverty, the kingdom is relatively affluent compared to Mozambique. During the height of Mozambique's two-decade long civil war, more than 30,000 Mozambicans fled to refugee camps in eastern Swaziland. The civil war also brought cheap AK-47 assault rifles into the country, which fuelled a rise in crime. Cattle rustling and car smuggling across the porous Swaziland-Mozambique border was rife, and eventually required the permanent encampment of Swazi soldiers to staunch. At the weekend, King Mswati III complained that a high crime rate was chasing away investors. Many Swazis are ready to blame Mozambicans for this state of affairs. "We are not prejudiced against Mozambicans, but they are thieves," said Gabriella Shongwe, an angry Manzini resident. Shongwe's house was broken into twice, and she said neighbours overheard the burglars speaking the language of Mozambique's Shangaan people. "The Mozambicans are exploiting us," said Swazi street vendor Hlob'sile Gama. "They do not buy licenses or rent space at the market, but crowd the pavements and steal our customers." Not all Swazis object to having Mozambicans in the country. "They have enlivened our country with their music and their cuisine. They have made fish eaters out of Swazis with their wonderful prawns. Culturally, Swazis never ate fish before," Max Mngomezulu, a Manzini restaurant owner, told IRIN. "Let's face it, without the Mozambicans, willing to work for the pittance we pay them, most of the houses in Manzini wouldn't have cooks, garden boys and maids," admitted a housewife in Fairview, a Manzini suburb. Swazis have historic ties with the peoples of the northeast, in what is today Mozambique. "Maputo is ours," claimed King Mswati's brother, Prince Bhekimphi Dlamini, referring to the migration of the Swazi people from the environs of modern Mozambique's capital in the 1500s. Government to government cooperation is strong. A second border post, closed during the Mozambican civil war, will soon reopen, connecting Maputo Province with Swaziland's eastern provincial capital, Siteki. Exports from landlocked Swaziland are also increasingly routed through Maputo's rehabilitated port, rather than Durban in South Africa. But as long as crime is high and the Swazi economy is bad, resentment of Mozambican "opportunists" is likely to remain, diplomatic sources said.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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