Wives' club fights South African xenophobia after attacks

Wives' club fights South African xenophobia after attacks

JOHANNESBURG - It is not a book club, a yoga club or a theatre club, but about 100 South African wives rely on their own social group to meet and share their experience of prejudice for being married to foreigners.

They say that having Nigerian husbands exposes them to daily discrimination, and that they had long predicted the wave of deadly xenophobic violence that has shaken South Africa in recent weeks.

The United Nigerian Wives in South Africa (UNWISA) club was set up two years ago to support wives who tell of being shunned by family and friends for falling in love with Africans from outside South Africa.

The group's existence underscores the deep-rooted tensions that erupted anew in Johannesburg and Durban this month when mobs of South African men hunted down immigrants, attacking them and destroying their homes and businesses.

At least seven people have been killed in the unrest, and thousands of immigrants - mainly from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Mozambique and elsewhere in Africa - were forced to flee their homes and seek safety in makeshift camps.

"We saw this thing coming and that's why we formed this association," UNWISA chairwoman Lindwela Uche, 42, told AFP.

"If only they (the authorities) had listened to us... they would have known that there's a fire burning slowly and they would have seen how to tackle it."

The group has 100 members on its Facebook forum and also organises picnics, family football tournaments and demonstrations against the stigma they endure.

"Being married to a foreigner is very challenging," Lufuno Orji, a Johannesburg resources consultant whose husband is a Nigerian medical doctor, told AFP.

"You often spend your time defending yourself and then you defend your foreign husband for being himself." Attitudes "are negative everywhere we go," said Thelma Okoro, 37, adding that even wearing traditional Nigerian dress on the street can attract barbed comments.

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