HUNDREDS of foreigners have been left homeless and in fear for their lives following a recent spate of xenophobic attacks in the greater Durban area, the past few weeks. Reports about what started the wave of attacks in Isipingo on 30 March are mixed.
Some assigning blame must go to King Goodwill Zwelithini who announced in a speech that foreigners should be deported, while other reports indicate a South African labour strike turned violent against foreigners.
The initial spark quickly ignited into a furnace of violence and hatred as sporadic attacks broke out in areas including uMlazi, KwaMashu, Chatsworth, Greenwood Park and Inanda with African foreigners, many of them shop owners, the victims of violence and looting. In an effort to prompt action against the attacks a march was organised last Wednesday, with the intention of walking from King Dinizulu Park to City Hall where a memorandum would be handed to the mayor. However, the city, fearing further attacks on the protesters, revoked the permit to march at the last minute. Chaos erupted as police fired tear gas and water canons to disperse the crowd with some continuing the march to city hall in defiance.
That same day, the Diakonia Council of Churches also held a prayer vigil at City Hall, praying for peace and harmony.
Those displaced by the attacks and threats of further violence have been moved to refugee camps set up in a number of areas including Chatsworth, uMlazi and Isipingo. On hearing about the plight of the families who have lost everything, Activator and co-founder of the African Community Development Initiative, Kanyisa Booi, investigated how she could help. “I saw a horrific picture on Facebook of a person in Durban, burning, and I knew I had to do something.”
Booi contacted close friend, Diaku Dianzenza, Chairman of the Africa Solidarity Network (ASONET), about what she could do.
ASONET, which falls under the Democracy Development Programme (DDP), has been working closely with the victims.
Dianzenza explained that one of their members was a victim of the attacks and so they have been very involved in on-the-ground assistance. “We have been working with people from the Chatsworth and Greenwood Park camps, finding out what is needed and approaching people for assistance. The biggest need now is for blankets, mattresses and tents as some people are having to sleep without cover,” he said.
After Booi made contact with ASONET, she got in touch with ACTIVATE! – a network of young leaders people who drive positive change across the country and to which Booi belongs – and mobilised a collection for foodstuff, cosmetics, nappies and clothes for the victims. Booi, who is currently also involved in community development in the Pinetown area, feels that opening conversation on the issue is the only way to resolve it. “I’m lobbying to get a discussion going on radio. We need to provide a platform for people to discuss what’s going on.” She said that, after visiting the Isipingo refugee camp last Tuesday, she was deeply moved to help.
“There is just such an air of sadness. Men are sitting around and you can sense they feel they should be elsewhere. The children know what’s going on and don’t want to be there.” Although the city has provided shelter and medical care, Booi is working to get trauma counselling to deal with the underlying emotional suffering.
Fellow Activator, Nokukhanya Zulu, said she has been working with Kanyisa, rallying support on social media. On visiting the Isipingo camp, Zulu chatted to the families to find out what was needed. “There is such an unsettled feeling in the camp. What affected me was the realisation that all these people had lives, they had work, they had things to do. Now they are so unsure. There is a brokenness.” ASONET’S Dianzenza praised ACTIVATE!’s involvement in victim support, saying the positive participation of all stakeholders is the only hope for a “peaceful and durable” solution.
ACTIVATE! also works closely with fellow community-driven organisation, the DDP. Executive Director of the DDP, Dr Rama Naidu, said they had hosted a meeting with the leaders of seven African countries on the weekend. “They have formed a committee which will be able to instruct us as to exactly what is needed.” He said the DDP has set up a fund to ensure those displaced are kept warm and safe. The fund is also being used to transport people back to their home countries, if they so wish, as many of them are unwilling to stay. “Some of these people have been in South Africa for 10 or 15 years, and now they just don’t feel safe.”
Dr Naidu said that, tragically, several of those in the camps had to flee their homes without taking passports or any form of identity documents and they are worried they’ll be viewed as illegal immigrants.
“There is a feeling that reaction by the KwaZulu-Natal government and police has been slow and that there is no serious willingness to help their plight. “We are trying to assess exactly what is needed and are organising donations of food and clothes. Many of the people left with literally the clothes on their back so the need is great.”
To get involved or make a donation to the victims of Xenophobia at the Isipingo safety camp, please contact Kanyisa Booi on 061 601 7734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.