Michel Hatungimana is a kind man—and members of his organization describe him as a warrior. He has helped over 150 refugees from his native Burundi with food, and accommodation. He risks his safety to rescue hijacked Burundian commercial drivers. Recently he’s taken on the dangerous role of peacemaker during the upsurge in violence against immigrants in South Africa.
Hatungimana left Burundi in 2009, at the height of a bloody civil war in that country. He became a refugee in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania before moving to South Africa. Ever since he has been helping man, women and children from his country with food and accommodation from his personal savings. He also used his connections to help them find jobs. In 2018, Hatungimana was elected President of the Burundian Community in the Western Cape. Burundians elected him because they trust he can do well for them.
‘I help new comers with accommodation and food. I also make plans for them to get jobs. I don’t want to see people struggling when I can help,’ said Hatungimana. To date he has helped over 150 men and women from his country to get jobs and he encourages members from his community to start businesses and to form cooperatives in order to succeed. While he bemoans the lack of support from humanitarian organizations in South Africa, he also expresses appreciation for those in his community who have some assets to help those without.
As if this were not enough, Hatungimana risks his life by rescuing hijacked commercial drivers from his country. ‘I find out through our online group if a member is hijacked or has an accident and I travel to the scene even at night. As a leader I have to go there and rescue that driver. It’s financially draining and sometimes dangerous,’ Hatungimana said.
Following the non-renewal of driving licenses for Burundian commercial drivers, by the South African Traffic Department, on grounds that they are refugees, Hatungimana has approached the South African Human Rights Commissioner and the Mayor of Cape Town, demanding that they address the matter. They have assured him that plans are under way to ensure that foreign nationals are not discriminated against, in South Africa.
But these assurances follow cases of recent violence against foreign nationals in some parts of South Africa that have already left about 12 people dead, thousands displaced and millions of Rands in property destroyed. Hatungimana risks his own safety to help end the violence, often encouraging members of his community to do their part to avoid anti-immigrant hostilities by respecting South African law and leadership. ‘This country we are living in, South Africa, is our host country,’ Hatungimana reminds his fellow Burundians. In everything we do let us follow the law.’