Cameroon High Commissioner to South Africa Adrien Kouambo has been sharply criticized for not taking practical measures to reassure and send back Cameroon nationals who want to return home following xenophobic attacks against foreign nationals in the rainbow nation. Officially, seven people have been killed some burnt alive after Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini made an inflammatory speech calling on foreigners to leave South Africa. Some countries including Nigeria, Malawi and Mozambique have repatriated some of their nationals who want to return voluntarily. One Cameroonian reportedly fall off a bilding and died under suspicious circumstances.
Angered by the inaction of high commission officials, Jonalist Solomon Amabo who moved to South Africa last year to study Public Relations and Marketing decided to take the concerns of the Cameroonian community to High commission officials. He finally met a not very pleased High Commissioner who issued some disguised threats claiming he is answerable only to president Paul Biya
Amabo has since also been on South African radio and television to talk about attempts on his life na d related matters during the crisis
Francis Ngwa put the questions
Q.Why did you find it necessary to fight your way in to see the ambassador?
You must understand with me that since these xenophobic attacks against foreign nationals started about a month ago, -notably in Durban and Johannesburg, Cameroonians living in SA see other countries assisting their people. Organizing voluntary repatriation (Nigeria Mozambique, Malawi etc). Some diplomats visit their people in affected areas like Jeppestown and Alexender to take stock of what their compatriots have lost. They then comfort them and channel their people’s problems to the Zuma government. Cameroonians have been victims. One of them even died under unclear circumstances. Could the government not assist to transport the corpse home? There have been complains from Cameroonians that their embassy is not seen on the ground.
Each time there is an update of the situation, Cameroonians kept asking questions. What is the embassy saying? What are they doing? I saw the need to carry these questions being raised by my fellow compatriots s to embassy officials. I was not targeting the ambassador but any embassy staff for clarification. That is how I got to the Cameroon High Commission
Q Apparently, your discussions were not friendly?
The discussions weren’t friendly at all. I was surprised at the reception he gave me. I cheated death and had to flee for my life, a Cameroonian has died, others want to voluntary return home to flee the violence. All the Ambassador could tell me was that we have fabricated stories, with all the trauma and pain in our hearts. He claims to have sources that are apparently inexistent. I have been talking to many Cameroonians and the general feeling is that of abandonment by their embassy. They go there only to issue passports and other documents. The question now is what the embassy is doing for its people it is supposed to be protecting? Instead of telling Cameroonians what they were doing or intended to do, or put in place emergency measures to be help difuse a very volatile situation, the ambassador tells me he is answerable to one man-Paul Biya.. That is not the vision we should have for our country. We need a change of mentality in the way we serve the state.
Q. What have other African ambassadors been doing since the crisis broke?
I know Mozambique, Malawi, Botswana have sent buses to transport their citizens back home. Nigeria started doing so on April 20. Meetings have been held though it is difficult to say what filtered from such meetings. I think each country was trying to protect its citizens in the wake of xenophobic attacks. Some even visit people who have sort safety in Refugee Camps.
Q I understand we now have a Cameroonian dead victim . What do you know about him.
I knew Apianta Elvis when I worked in Hillbrow, a business and residential neighbourhood. He worked in what was called ‘scrap yard’ ( they buy used iron, steel, copper, brass and then resell) owned by Divine Ngalla. He was a very calm guy who hardly even spoke. We met each time I passed Esselen street in Hillbrow where his shop is located. I was surprised to hear he had fallen from a building. Whether he was pushed I cannot tell. But it was just two days after I was attacked.
Q The High Commissioner claims he cannot repatriate his corpse? Is the Cameroon community helping in any way?
Here in Johannesburg, many Cameroonians belong to are “njangi” groups and tribal meetings. I hear he was a member of the Mile Two Bamenda meeting. The Cameroon community as far as I know, is not organized well enough to assist in a situation like this one. The wake keep without corpse took place on April 25th. I could not attend for fear of my safety. I am sure the corpse will go home by the 29 of April for burial on May 10th
Q. Tell me about the circumstances of the attack on your house
I am one of the victims and to be candid, God saved me from death. My house in Fox Street ( Jeppes Town) was attacked by unknown men who spoke one of the Southern African languages on 17 April 2015 at about 10 pm. The attackers were shouting in English that all foreigners must go. They broke into my house but before they could get to me, I had broken a window and with the help of others, flew to safety. I went to Jeppes Town police station and opened a case of robbery against the unknown assailants.
Other houses were attacked within the same neighbourhood. People were tortured and property looted. I lost my TV set, some money and some other personal items which I am yet to check since I have now fled the house to a safe place. I also had bruises I suffered during my escape which I only discovered later. Some other Cameroonians were also victims and some have not even told their stories.
Q Look like since you were attacked, you’ve been doing everything excerpt keep quiet to prevent further attacks?
How can one keep quiet when he is not safe, when he/she has just cheated death? It’s traumatizing and frustrating. You can’t be quiet when there is the fear that violence can erupt anytime. South Africa is generally not safe especially in bi cities like Johannesburg and the xenophobic attacks have only made a bad situation worst.
Almost on a daily basis, you read terrible stories of robberies, murders, hijacking etc. How can you keep quiet when your own country is showing little or no concern about the wellbeing of its citizens in a foreign country? You can’t be quiet if you need to contribute in your own small way to inform and build your society and people. I just can’t be quiet; I feel that urge to call on my countrymen and Africans to make a change of heart. That is why I have been using all available media to expose what is happening to us and how embassy officials have quietly folded teir arms and done nothing.
Q By going so public, aren’t you putting yourself in more danger?
I already consider myself dead since the night of April 17 when I was attacked at home. I know I am in great danger especially after getting the worrying reaction from the Cameroon High Commissioner to South Africa. He seems not to want to understand that Cameroonians need people who can serve them and not serve one man-a president. I remain very vigilant because I know that there are people who do not want the situation of our country to change. They don’t necessarily like anyone like me who exposes their hypocrisy. Though in danger, I know God is the only protector of his people. I will keep on fighting until we get government servants who can do what they were really appointed to do; serve the people.
Q. It now looks like the situation in South Africa is gradually calming down?
The SA government had to deploy troops to restive areas like Alexendra and Jeppes town, Johannesburg and in other areas in Durban. The violence has seemingly died down since the army came out to fight back at the thugs causing all the carnage.
Q King Zwelithini apparently started this latest crisis when he delivered what is being described as a hate speech. What do you know about him and why is he so powerful in South Africa?
He is the king of the Zulu people on of the different ethnic groups in the Black South African population. The Zulus seem to be the majority and wield power because of their contribution to end apartheid especially with the Inkatha freedom party. They remain the protectors especially of their tradition and are naturally warriors (if you look at their traditional attire). It is obvious that any Zulu King wields power. It is the case with Goodwill Zwelithini.
Q Aren’t you afraid for your life?
I am really afraid. But the best way to keep away fear is to be close to God and work for justice and the truth. Instead of planning to harm or kill me, I think my ideas should be used to build our country, Africa and the world.
Q You have now fled your residence for security reasons. What are you immediate and long term plans.
I have effectively fled my home to safety. I can’t live in the area anymore. I was teaching in a nearby school in the Jeppe area. I can’t work anymore because I fear for my safety now. I don’t want to walk into trouble.
My immediate plans now are to try to settle down and have a cool head first. This has been a really difficult and traumatizing experience worsened by the not too friendly comments and reaction from our embassy officials