South African women married to Nigerians and other non-South Africans say it is “hell” being married to foreigners. They say they face maltreatment from family and friends who loathe them for falling in love with foreigners.
According to some of these women, who in order to offer support to one another formed the United Nigerian Wives in South Africa (UNWISA) club, the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa had long been predicted.
One of them, Lindwela Uche, 42, who serves as the chairwoman of the group told AFP that they saw the xenophobic attacks coming but their warnings were not taken seriously.
She said: “We saw this thing coming and that’s why we formed this association. If only they had listened to us… they would have known that there’s a fire burning slowly and they would have seen how to tackle it.”
Uche said her 13-year-old daughter returned from school a while ago, complaining that her teacher had told her “not to bring that Nigerian mentality here” after she and classmates were noisy in class.
“We need to be protected, we need our children to be protected… and our husbands to be treated with dignity,” she added.
Another member of the association,“Lufunu Orji who is married to a Nigerian resource consultant, Ogbonnaya Orji, was quoted as saying:”Being married to a foreigner is very challenging. You often spend your time defending yourself and then you defend your foreign husband for being himself. Just before I got wed to my husband, I lost two very best friends of mine. They thought I was out of my mind”
Attitudes “are negative everywhere we go,” said Thelma Okoro, 37, adding that even wearing traditional Nigerian dress on the street can attract barbed comments. She spoke of how her eight-year-old daughter gets mocked by schoolmates over her name “Ngozi” which means “blessing” in Igbo but literally translates to “danger” in Zulu.
Okoro, who has been married to Kenneth for 13 years, says she was told off by an official when she tried to apply for free government-issued houses in 2011.
“They told me that I was not entitled because I am married to a foreigner, and that if I wanted a house I must divorce the man first,” she said.
She also cited taking her sick children to hospital, where “the nurses ask ‘why are you giving these people residence papers’ — degrading and discrediting our choices”.
The wives’ club is now looking to widen its reach to South African women married to other foreign nationals after the recent anti-immigrant attacks highlighted many other women going through similar experiences.
One victim, Nokuthula Mabaso, last week told local media she was threatened with rape for dating her Zimbabwean boyfriend Elias Chauke.
“A group of Zulu-speaking men arrived and kicked down the door,” she said.
“They asked me why I dated a foreigner when there were many South African men in the squatter camp and I replied that I love Elias. They then assaulted and robbed me.
“One of them threatened to rape us and was stopped by others.”