Page last updated at 21:28 GMT, Tuesday, 24 June 2008 22:28 UK

Children terrified by SA xenophobia

By Caroline Hawley
BBC News, Johannesburg

Ten-year-old Fortune watched a man being shot dead in front of him as he accompanied his mother to the grocer's store.

Children at Troyeville Primary School, Johannesburg
Children at Troyeville Primary School are trying to re-start their lives

Another 10-year-old saw men armed with clubs and guns preparing for an attack.

"I was scared," he says, "so I prayed."

Both children have been receiving counselling after a wave of anti-immigrant attacks in South Africa last month.

Their school called in art therapist Michelle Booth when teachers realised that many pupils had been traumatised by violence - which they had either suffered directly or witnessed.

When Ms Booth asked the children to depict what they had experienced, she was shocked by their disturbed drawings.

"This was war," she told the BBC at Troyeville Primary in central Johannesburg.

"There was fighting on the streets - and that's something that happens in other countries, not in South Africa. Some of the children had come from conflict zones already and they've been re-traumatised."

More than 60 people were killed in May's xenophobic violence and up to 100,000 immigrants were forced to flee their homes.

Over the past few weeks, tens of thousands of them have crossed back into their own countries, and up to 15,000 others are now staying in tents provided by the UN, at camps in and around Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Some have seen things that no adult should witness
Pieter Joubert
Headmaster, Troyeville Primary School

They include students from Troyeville Primary, where a third of the intake is from the immigrant community.

"Twelve of our children are in refugee camps," says headmaster Pieter Joubert.

"Some have seen ugly things that no adult should have to witness. We've had people burned out of their homes. I don't think the students will get over their experiences easily."

One child drew a man in a burning house, screaming for help.

Another wrote: "I am hated. I am hated. I am hated... What did we do to deserve this."

The picture showed broken hearts. In another drawing, a speech bubble comes from a stick man, saying: "U will die, u people."

A Congolese boy told Ms Booth, the art therapist, that he now runs to school, rather than walking, because he is scared that the violence will resume and that he will be targeted.

Drawings by children at Troyeville Primary, Johannesburg
The children's pictures portray the violence they have seen

Twelve-year-old Carmel, whose uncle was shot during the violence, says: "We are not safe any more even in our own houses. We just don't know what to do. When you hear a noise, you think that maybe they are coming for you."

But many of the children who came forward for counselling were South Africans, ashamed by the violence perpetrated by adults.

"It was totally unfair what happened," says Fortune. "Because what is South Africa without Africa? Foreigners too have blood and minds and hearts."

Another boy wrote that he "felt guilty" and "disappointed" at what had happened, although he had originally "almost agreed" with the attacks.

"Then I put myself in the shoes of the foreign people," he says, adding that he missed his "refugee friends".

But Ms Booth suspects that some pupils' parents may have supported the attacks.

"I don't know for sure," she says, "but I've heard that there are some children who tease the foreigners and say that they are 'going to get you again'."

"I feel sad because I know that many South Africans were hosted in other African countries during the anti-apartheid struggle. They were welcomed with open arms. And the people who were attacked had sought refuge here."

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