Page last updated at 15:59 GMT, Thursday, 22 May 2008 16:59 UK

S Africa violence: 'Screams haunt me'

a Zimbabwean national, looks out of a South African train in Johannesburg central station on May 20, 2008 heading back to Harare as he flees the country due to the ongoing xenophobic violence in Johan

Several thousand foreigners have fled South Africa after days of violent attacks by angry mobs. Among them are many Zimbabweans who prefer to risk the violence there than stay in South Africa.

Thabiso, a 36 year-old Zimbabwean woman, had to flee the township of Thembisa near Johannesburg, after a series of xenophobic attacks.

I was awoken by the sound of screaming on Monday. I realised they had set alight a shack belonging to a Mozambican immigrant.

He tried to escape the fire. But the residents were armed with all sorts of traditional weapons and AK-47 rifles.

They shouted: "Umbambe engabaleki", which means "Don't let him run away" in Zulu.

They threw a brick at his head and he fell down.

The mob caught up with him, doused him with petrol and threw him back into the burning shack.

The screams of the burning Mozambican still haunt me. When I close my eyes to try to sleep, I see the man screaming for help. But no-one helps him.

I have never seen such barbarism. I cannot stand this kind of life.

A man from Malawi lies wounded in the Reiger Park informal settlement outside Johannesburg
Foreign population: 3-5m
Majority from Zimbabwe, also Mozambique, Nigeria
Total population: 49m
Unemployment rate: 30%

Some other Zimbabweans and I ran to take shelter in a shack owned by a South African woman a few yards away.

Other residents, who had seen us taking refuge at the house, followed us shouting: "Where are the foreigners?"

This mob was armed with sticks and knives. They called out the house-owner's name and ordered her to give us up.

She told the attackers we were not foreigners but South Africans.

What saved us was that we could speak Zulu, unlike some of the others who could only speak English.

After that the thugs left and searched for other foreigners who were already fleeing the area for the city centre.

Some of the women living in the settlement told me they had been raped. They said they could not inform the police, because they knew that would not help them. They even thought the police were collaborating with the mob.

I have lived in South Africa for eight years and had never seen such beatings and brutality by locals.

I had to leave with just a few clothes in a bag but many others had to leave with nothing.

I used to work at a restaurant in Johannesburg to support my two children but now I have decided to go back home, at least for a few weeks until the situation improves.

More of your accounts from South Africa

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