JOHANNESBURG – Photojournalist James Oatway is on a mission.
While he’s covered several xenophobic attacks over the past decade, one incident stands out.
Oatway captured the murder of Mozambican Emmanuel Sithole nearly 2 years ago.
Now, he’s changing focus – producing a series of portraits.
“Migrants are always seen in desperate situations,” says Oatway. “I thought, let’s photograph people under normal circumstances, in a positive light.”
Alexis Onene is one of the migrants in the series. Onene is a professional drummer, who fled Cote d’Ivoire five years ago.
He managed to make a life in South Africa, but it hasn’t been easy.
“My message is about unity. I sing about Africans becoming one, and placing hands together. As long as you live in Africa you are African, no matter where you come from.”
Jaafar Yuusuf Mohamed is also hoping to change mindsets. The singer left Ethiopia, after taking aim at the country’s leaders.
Mohamed says the government wants to silence the Oromo people. The Oromo are the biggest ethnic group in Ethiopia. But he says they’ve been excluded, both politically and economically.
“So long as the Oromo people are suffering, I can’t keep silent,” says Mohamed. “I can’t silence myself. I must use my voice, and I will use it forever.
I’m no longer living for myself. I’m living for the Oromo people.”
Mohamed says he can’t return to his motherland. But his new home has its own problems. Residents looted several foreign-owned shops in Pretoria last week.
There were more chaotic scenes in the capital on Friday. A group marched against illegal immigrants, saying government must deport them.
Oatway says he’s getting nervous – warning that history could repeat itself.
“I’ve been walking around with this feeling of dread. It’s been difficult to focus. I’ve been feeling tense, my appetite is not there anymore.
All those feelings keep coming back. My greatest fear is that we go back to those days. That was something that should never have happened.”