From political violence in Pakistan to crime in Braamfontein


Waleed Teriq talking politics and mobile technology with customers at his new home and business, Celltronic Express.

Waleed Teriq talking politics and mobile technology with customers at his new home and business, Celltronic Express.  Photo: Percy Matshoba

From political violence to crime 

SMALL Pakistani immigrant communities are finding refuge in Braamfontein’s inner city through the establishment of business chains to escape the politically hostile environment back home.

After one businessman nearly had his shop bombed, he ended up here.

‘’We do have businesses in Pakistan but the problem in our country is war and it’s too much,” said Pakistani immigrant and business owner Waleed Teriq, who reveals that his decision to move to South Africa was motivated by the political turmoil in his country.

The political unrest was brought by the ideological conflict of the Islamic faction known as the Taliban.  It had taken control of Afghanistan in 1997 and imposed extreme Islamist law, which found neighbouring country Pakistan in the ongoing crossfire of the conflict.

Crime – the lesser devil 

According to Teriq, members of the Taliban sent letters to his store in Pakistan which prohibited him from downloading videos and songs for his customers. They threatened to bomb his shop if he did not adhere to the instructions.

However, while Teriq moved from his country to South Africa to escape the consistent danger to his life, he still falls victim to the high incidences of crime in South Africa.

[pullquote]“We had a robbery, two times in 2010 and six people came with the guns and laid me down, taking 60 cellphones” said Teriq who reflects on the attack as his first experience of South African criminal activity.[/pullquote]

Similarly, a shop attendant from Bangladesh, Rohan Islam experienced a similar incident when his phone and R500 was stolen from him whilst getting off a taxi at the Bree street taxi rank.

“South Africa also have [sic] crime, not too bad, but there is a mix,” said Islam.

Communities at war 

Islam reflects on his decision to move from Bangladesh to South Africa as an escape from the violent attacks he endured under the Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s (BNP) regime. This saw him spend 21 days in hospital.

Teriq describes the relationship between the South African Police Services (SAPS) and the immigrant communities as “helpful”, although he mentions the need for the police force to be unduly incentivised is “too much”.

The political conflict in the migrant communities from different countries plays out in their business operations. This is because of the   complicated relationship between the Pakistani and the Bangladeshi. “There is a community, but we are not friends,’’ said Islam.

“It is too difficult to live in our country right now,”   says Teriq, talking about Pakistan, who describes Braamfontein as better than any other area in Johannesburg.

Johannesburg: The migrant city that is anti-migrants

Gallery by Mfuneko Toyana

The Market Theatre’s main stage was the platform where six diverse minds gathered to discuss migration, a topic central to all of their individual work.

The last day and the last panel discussion of the Mail & Guardian Literary Festival helped to make audience members and authors alike reflect on the movement of people in and out of cities and countries.

The poor accommodating the poor

Wandile Zwane from the City of Johannesburg’s Migrant Helpdesk, used an interesting anecdote from a conversation he had had with a woman, illustrating a point made earlier about migration being a situation where the poor are accommodating the poor. [pullquote]”…people migrate to places with a gravitational pull…”[/pullquote]

The woman talked about the hierarchy that existed when it came to where one slept in her house. As a young child one was in the main bedroom, the older one got you would move to the dining room and the kitchen to make space for the younger ones. Eventually one would land up in the outside room and from there move on to their own house with a spouse.

Unfortunately her marriage had not worked out so she had to move back to the outside room with her kids, but because there was an immigrant living in that room she had to go back to the kitchen. The story points to one explanation of the animosity that exists around migration in South Africa.


Chinua Achebe’s book ‘There was a Country’ was the theme around which the conversation around which migration had to bend itself.

The panel consisted of writers who had threaded together stories and books, all zooming in on migration and themes central to resettlement. The panel discussion was largely based on the different writers’ works and their experiences of bridging political and personal narratives in their storytelling.

A young writer making waves in the literary world, NoViolet Bulawayo, said emergent personal narratives are based on political events, and that it was not possible to separate the two in one’s writing. [pullquote align=”right”]“Johannesburg is a migrant city”[/pullquote]

While the works of the six on stage were central to the discussion, engagement with audience members opened up the dialogue and brought up issues that were left out in the initial conversation.

Photographer and self-proclaimed book lover, Victor Dlamini (@victordlamini) made a poignant point from the floor, which steered the conversation to a meaningful point. He commented on people who are migrants themselves taking issue with people who migrate. He used Johannesburg as an example, saying most people who are in this city are not even from this city. “Johannesburg is a migrant city,” he added.

Panelist and writer, Achmat Dangor responded by saying that he agreed with Dlamini and pinned negative attitudes around migration on mechanisms of ‘othering’. He added that people migrate to places with a gravitational pull because of new ideas in that specific place. This is always the case with ‘big cities’, the activity and promise of economic emancipation lure people in, be it across borders or provincial lines.

Caroline Wanjiku Kihato, author of The Bookseller of Kibera, added to Dangor’s response, saying that human beings had a tendency of finding one another’s differences and using them to oppress one another.

Another audience member asked why was it that only Africans were considered immigrants. He did not understand why the Chinese and Europeans who come to this country were not treated with the same hostility that “our brothers” were.

In response Kwanele Sosibo (@KwaneleSosibo), journalist at the Mail & Guardian, simply said “we do it to ourselves”. He went on to narrate an anecdote about how people in an Eastern Cape community believe in measuring people according to certain pedigrees. Mining house recruiters divided them up according to body size, using pedigree determine who’d make best workers, exemplary of systematic ‘othering’.

Writing Invisibility

The Writing Invisibility e-book was launched. Some of the writers on the panel were contributors in the book which was a project done in collaboration with the Wits African Centre for Migration & Society.

The book is available for free download here.