South African family opens home to refugees

8 July 2015

A KwaZulu-Natal family has opened its 20ha farm to 143 foreign nationals, including children, who were displaced during the recent xenophobic attacks in the province.

Andrew and Rae Wartnaby, both 47, from Hope Farm in Killarney Valley in Cato Ridge said they were heartbroken when they heard that the eThekwini Municipality was closing the single remaining camp for displaced foreign nationals in Chatsworth last week.

The couple’s hearts sank further when they heard that foreign nationals had been arrested and separated from their children on Friday after “illegally” occupying the camp.

“On Friday we received a message from a friend informing us that they had arrested all the people and separated them from their families, so we went to Chatsworth Police Station to find out how we could help,” explained Andrew. “Welfare was there. They separated the children and they put everyone in jail and the children were taken away to a children’s home.”

The couple spent the weekend speaking to lawyers and offering assistance. “The lawyers said if these people have somewhere to go, then they will be able to sort out the charges and get the families reunited. So we said that we have space, we can do it.”

The couple spoke to the lawyers and prosecutors and a decision was taken not to prosecute the foreign nationals.

Help from all quarters

“The next thing we heard was that they are releasing them and bringing the children back. We then suddenly realised that we didn’t know how we were going to get them to here and where all these people were going to sleep, but we have had so much help,” said Andrew.

Most of the families at the farm are from Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.

“We just have a heart for children. We want children to have families, be fed and looked after. At the beginning of the attacks I wanted to go to Durban and help, but God said to me that I should not get involved now. He said we must wait and he would need us in the end,” said Rae.

Asked how her family was coping, she said: “It’s been a day. Everybody is organised. We told everyone that they are welcome in our home and they are guests here.

“So they cook their own breakfast, lunch and supper. Our plan is to set them up with their own families in their own tents. Everyone is going to have their own plate and spoons,” she added.

Public appeal

The couple is appealing to the public for assistance. “We need anything that you need in your home. If everyone gives us a plate and a spoon, we would have enough. We urgently need mattresses and blankets.

“Gift of the Givers, the South African Council of Churches, Islamic Relief and various churches will be assisting us from Wednesday,” Rae said.

The Wartnabys, who have 11 children – two foster, two biological and the rest adopted, said they were used to having a full house. “We have looked after foster children since we got married in 1990. This is the first time we have done this on such a big scale,” she added.

Andrew added that the family liked flying under the radar, while Rae admitted that the past 24 hours had been overwhelming.

“It has been difficult, but look at them; they are happy. It’s a different vibe to the camps because it is safe and it is private property and not owned by municipal land.

Badly treated

“I just want to apologise for the way they were treated. They weren’t supposed to be treated like that. They come from other countries and some of them can’t go back home because there is war.”

Asked how long they would accommodate their guests, Rae said: “The mediators are coming on Friday and the United Nations, and after that we will be able to make better decisions on the issue.”

The foreigners were occupying one of the rooms on the farm which would be getting a new floor this week.

Rae said her children had adapted to the extended family. “They are enjoying themselves. They love it. They didn’t get a chance to go on holiday this year, but they are having fun.”

The family is self-sufficient. They farm their own chickens and vegetables, and have their own water and solar power system.

They did not want the issue to be about them. “I know it sounds like we are doing something awesome and unique, but there are many other people doing this and if more people were doing something like this then we wouldn’t have so many people without homes,” said Rae.

Refugees’ response

The Wartnabys’ guests have mixed feelings about their new home. Omba Mfunti, 43, from the DRC, was not shy to say that she was not happy.

“We are grateful that Andrew and Rae are letting us stay here, but I just want to leave South Africa,” said the mother of four. “The way we were arrested on Friday violated our rights. The problem is that there is war in Congo. We’ll go anywhere where we will find peace.”

Joseph Irambona, 45, from Burundi, was reading his Bible; he has been in South Africa since 2003. “We do not want to go back to our communities. I have been running away from xenophobia since 2008 and I am still running today. It is not right,” he said.

He said living on the farm was better than at the camp.

Famba Famba, 40, also from the DRC said he was confused. “I don’t know what is happening. We were arrested and then we were released and now we are here.”

He said he needed time to adjust to his new environment.

Source: News24Wire