Tuesday, June 17, 2008

South African Update on Xenophobic Violence: Mbeki Says to Respect and Protect All Africans

Mbeki: respect and protect all Africans

By Christelle Terreblanche

All South Africans have been "humiliated and shamed" by members of the country's youth who recently led the "cowardly" xenophobic attacks, President Thabo Mbeki said as he called on the youth to protect their fellow Africans.

Mbeki yesterday addressed the 32nd official Youth Day celebrations at the University of the Western Cape.

"One of your immediate and principal responsibilities is to protect our fellow Africans who live in our country from cowardly attacks by criminals, which we have seen here in Cape Town and other parts of our country in the past weeks."

Mbeki, who was inaugurated exactly 9 years earlier, on June 16, 1998, addressed about 3 000 youths at a rally organised by the National Youth Commission (NYC).

His words had an ominous echo to the message he brought to the Mother City less than two months ago on Freedom Day, when he called on South Africans to "to unite in action" to confront the "savagery of racism and xenophobia".

On Monday, Mbeki stressed that the "Young Lions" of 2008 should be proudly African and always ready "to defend the rights of all Africans, wherever they are".

He was referring to the events in 1976 when students, later called the Young Lions, clashed with apartheid police in Soweto while demanding their democratic rights.

"Today's youth have to educate themselves to stop all attacks on our foreign guests, choosing rather to be the defenders of all in our communities."

Mbeki also urged the youth to work in partnership with the government to tackle their many challenges, and he recognised that many of them were among "the most vulnerable members of our society".

The government would continue to put their empowerment at the centre of job-creation and education programmes, he promised.

This message was echoed by NYC chairperson Nomi Nkondlo and Western Cape Community Safety MEC Leonard Ramatlakane.

Ramatlakane said the Western Cape should be a home for all, and called on the youth to be agents for change, isolating those in communities who were behind the attacks.

Nkondlo said the NYC believed the government should act with speed to introduce civic education programmes to help conscientise the youth about issues such as human rights and African history.

This article was originally published on page 6 of The Star on June 17, 2008

Xenophobia dented SA's image - Mapisa-Nqakula

South Africans will have to carry the guilty created by the recent xenophobic attacks for years to come, Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said on Tuesday.

Speaking during her budget vote debate in the National Assembly, Mapisa-Nqakula said the horrific attacks would remain embedded in the minds of many South Africans long after the displaced had been reintegrated.

"The real damage and after effects of these acts of criminality, committed in the name of our people, will still be felt in our country long after the tents have been dismantled, and way beyond the street patrols of police and soldiers in our communities," she said.

Children who witnessed the attacks would be badly affected.

"It will remain in the minds of our children who witnessed and participated in these horrific incidents.

"It will define the lessons we are teaching these children about how they should deal with challenges and how to treat other human beings in the future," Mapisa-Nqakula said.

The international community now doubted the country's exemplary status following its declaration to fight xenophobia and racism.

"We need to answer the question as to why is it that today the world has reason to doubt our commitment to this very declaration made here on our soil."

Mapisa-Nqakula then extended her apologies to all South Africans and foreign nationals "who fell victim to the crimes of hate that have blotted our image at home and abroad". - Sapa

Published on the Web by IOL on 2008-06-10 11:25:54

'Some displaced female immigrants were raped'

By Peter Luhanga

The plight of women subjected to sexual violence during the recent xenophobic attacks has been given little attention, with the result that victims risk being denied access to justice, say researchers.

Women are regarded as the most vulnerable group of the victims of xenophobic attacks because it is believed they were seen as soft targets.

Although the scale of abuse in the May attacks is unknown, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) senior researcher Monica Bandeira said immigrant women had been exposed to sexual abuse.

...It happened, we do not know to what extent but we are conducting research to find out,... she said.

She said there were no figures available for the number of women raped as many were reluctant to report it to the police ... seen by victims as being xenophobes themselves.

Dee Smythe, director at the University of Cape Town Law, Race and Gender Research Unit, said she knew of two women who had disclosed that they had been raped during the attacks.

She said one of the victims had reported that police had refused to assist her, saying they could not provide a service to a kwerekwere (a derogatory term for an African immigrant) and that she should rather report the case to the police in her home country, the DRC.

Smythe said as a result there had been no medical or legal examination, no postexposure prophylaxis and no morning-after pill.

Smythe said she knew of another woman who had
informed volunteers at Soetwater that she had been raped, but was not prepared to report the incident to police.

Romi Fuller, project manager of CSVR's Violence and Transition programme, said although there had been a "great response" from civil society and NGOs in helping victims of xenophobia there were no measures put in place by the government and civil society to address the vulnerability of women.

She said immigrant women in townships had been
"disproportionately affected" by the attacks, not only because of sexual abuse but also through the "burning and looting of their homes".

People Against Suffering, Suppression, Oppression and Poverty (Passop) spokesperson Braam Hanekom said they were aware that women had been subjected to sexual abuse during the xenophobic attacks.

He observed that in situations of conflict women and children were “the most vulnerable".

Sonke Justice Network refugee co-ordinator Freddy
Nkosi said the women who had come forward to report their cases were not victims of sexual assault but of xenophobic violence in general.

He said the organisation ... an NGO dealing with HIV/Aids,
human rights and gender equality – was counselling women who had been displaced and was encouraging victims of gender-based violence to come forward. ... West Cape News

This article was originally published on page 8 of The Cape Argus on June 13, 2008

Somalis, police clash as women are manhandled

By Joanne Smetherham, Anel Powell and Andre Hart

There was conflict between police and refugees across the Western Cape on Thursday as a Somali leader in Soetwater was arrested and the Treatment Action (TAC) demonstrated against the city over its refusal to open the Sea Point Civic Centre.

A 23-year-old man was arrested on charges of intimidating others into not taking food, police reported.

The University of Cape Town Law Clinic has been consulted to represent the man, who will appear in the Simon's Town magistrate's court on Friday.

'They tried to take my baby, then I fought with them'
In addition to his arrest, authorities were looking for a woman Somali leader on the same charges.

"These two leaders have been pursued by authorities because they have gone around to other camps, like Youngsfield and Blue Waters, to intimidate other refugees into going on hunger strike," said a senior SAPS official, who wished to remain anonymous.

Police fired shots into the air and set off stun grenades during a standoff with a crowd of Somalis who threw bottles and stones at officers who were trying to arrest the woman.

Somalis at the camp also complained that police had tried to force women and children to leave the camp.

The policemen allegedly grabbed many of the women and several policemen entered the women's tent to seize others.

"The police said, 'If you don't leave this camp, we will use force'," said Somali leader Osman Ibrahim.

The refugees said they were in shock over the incident and many children had been traumatised.

"About 50 police came with guns," said Zamzam Achmat, as a small excited crowd gathered around her.

"They just grabbed me and pushed me. I cried, all the ladies here cried. They tried to take my baby, then I fought with them."

The other refugees in the small group agreed.

"If you ask people here, they'll tell you it's better to die here than go back to the location. We are going to choose to kill ourselves, rather than go back," said Ibrahim.

Less than an hour later, Unicef and Red Cross representatives held a meeting at the camp with refugee leaders representing each nationality, asking about the children's health and conditions at the camp and promising to return.

The Unicef and Red Cross delegates sped away before the media could interview them but the refugee leaders said they were "disappointed" with the result.

"We thought we would go into the meeting and come back with a solution," said Zimbabwean leader Prosper Tafa.

"They said they would go away and work on the information we gave them. Some of the guys said they would come back tomorrow."

A cold wind was roaring off the sea on Thursday and many refugees were milling around wrapped in blankets and towels. Some of the tents had been dismantled and two men were on their knees praying on a set of black floorboards, all that remained of one of the tents.

Meanwhile 100 displaced foreign nationals spent Wednesday night at the Civic Centre after a six-hour sit-in bid to get the City of Cape Town to open the Sea Point Civic Centre failed.

Zackie Achmat, chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign, said he was "not impressed" that the city had refused to budge on its decision to keep the centre closed.

Almost 200 refugees from the Caledon Square group took part in the sit-in demonstration, which started assembling from 9am on Thursday morning.

Small groups came together, initially pretending to have coffee in the food court, while others appeared to be applying for car licences. It took about an hour before security realised that a protest was under way.

The group remained calm throughout the day, despite the strong Metro Police and SAPS presence.

Hans Smit, the city's executive director of housing, allayed fears that the group would be arrested if they did not vacate the building. "The city will not force you out. We have a non-aggressive attitude."

But he added: "We are not in a position to open the Sea Point Civic Centre."

Smit agreed that TAC volunteers could bring blankets and food to the refugees sleeping at the Civic Centre.

However, once these had been delivered no one would be allowed to leave and then return to the building.

joanne.smetherham@inl.co.za, anel.powell@inl.co.za and andrea.hart@inl.co.za

This article was originally published on page 1 of The Cape Times on June 13, 2008

There's more than one way to slice a pie

By Tara Polzer

There is a dangerous refrain in explanations for the xenophobic violence that has erupted around South Africa: that the violence was triggered by resource competition between citizens and non-citizens.

Many government and civil society commentators have said, in no uncertain terms, that there is no justification for expressing competition for scarce resources through violence, but often the claim that there is indeed competition for resources, remains unquestioned. But are foreigners really the reason "we can't provide for poor South Africans?"

It is extremely important to answer this question correctly. Not only will the wrong answer possibly cost the lives of more innocent people, but crucially, it will distract us from the real reasons underlying poverty and service delivery backlogs.

In taking seriously the reality of desperate poverty, extreme inequality, and disappointed expectations, we therefore have to challenge and reject the false equation between the presence of non-citizens and the poverty of South Africans.

This is not always easy. One of the reasons the resource competition argument is so widespread is that it seems so common-sensical: where there are limited resources, if you add more people, each person gets a smaller slice of the pie. But this argument is fatally flawed.

The first problem concerns the assumption of limited resources as the reason for a lack of service delivery to the poor.

It is true that South Africa is a developing country, a middle-income country, not among the rich nations of the world. However, it is not an absolute lack of resources which bedevils public welfare and poverty alleviation programmes.

The government has had a national budget surplus for several years; the provincial departments of health, education and housing, among others, regularly cannot spend their allocated budgets or fill open nursing and teaching positions; and reference to scarce resources rings hollow in Sandton, Umhlanga Rocks and Clifton.

We know that service delivery backlogs in South Africa stem from a combination of institutional capacity constraints and failures in balancing resource distribution between the rich and the poor. How can foreigners be blamed for either of these?

Secondly, are service delivery problems linked to an influx of unplanned and unexpected people into an area? Not always. The now-notorious Mt Frere Hospital in the Eastern Cape is in an area with virtually no foreigners, and the housing waiting lists, clinic waiting lines and teacher-student ratios are largest in some of the country's rural districts where absolute population densities have been declining rather than suddenly rising.

In the fast-growing urban areas, and especially the informal settlements, there is indeed an influx of newcomers, but the vast majority of these are South Africans from rural areas, coming to the city in search of employment and better living conditions.

Since South Africa does not require its citizens to register their place of residence every time they move, it is no wonder that Gauteng province struggles to plan services for a population that considers "home" to be in Mpumalanga, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal or the Free State.

Further on the question of an influx, it is true that South Africa does not have reliable information about the number and whereabouts of foreign migrants, especially those who are undocumented, and it is true that more reliable information would improve service planning.

However, the numbers regularly bandied about - five million Zimbabweans, 10 million illegal immigrants - are irresponsible conjecture, not based on evidence of any kind and certainly not solid enough to begin judging whether the cost to social services is too high or not.

Which brings me to the third assumption: that there is a finite "pie" of resources to be shared out, and that the pieces are therefore getting smaller.

Part of the resource competition argument is often that foreigners somehow manage to grab more than their fair share of the pie, if they are granted the right to a share at all.

In fact, the vast majority of migrants use few public services and have difficulties accessing services when they do need them.

Our recent research shows that only 15 percent of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees have school-age children with them in South Africa, and over half have never needed or accessed public health care since their arrival in the country. Non-citizens, except those with permanent resident status, are completely excluded from public housing, social grants and public works employment programmes.

While there may be some isolated cases of fraudulent access to these services, there are much higher levels of housing and grant fraud among South Africans who do not qualify for such state subsidies, as shown by several investigations by the Public Protector and other oversight bodies.

Importantly, excluding some people from the resource pie does not necessarily mean there is more left over for "us".

In fact, exclusion can diminish the size of the pie for all. An example is health care. A person who is ill in my community and cannot access health care is not only suffering alone but can affect the health of the entire community.

A person who is afraid of abuse and rejection at the local clinic and therefore waits to seek health care until she is critically ill, will need more resources than if she had been given early and safe access to care.

Finally, the pie can grow through the contribution of additional people. Employment is such an expandable pie, where foreigners contribute to the growth of the overall economy (and thereby to more employment creation) by working in niches, skilled and unskilled, where South Africans cannot or will not work.

Even more directly, our research in inner-city Johannesburg has shown that non-South Africans are much more likely to have hired someone to work for them in the past year than their South African neighbours, and that most of the people they hired were South Africans.

So what do we conclude? Firstly, South Africa's absolute priority - governmental and societal - must be to address the high levels of poverty and unemployment in the country.

To do this, we must focus on the real causes of poverty, unemployment and backlogs in public service provision, and not allow this crucial discussion to be sidetracked by spurious references to immigration policy.

Second, in those specific cases and places where domestic or cross-border migration do place concrete pressure on existing services and institutions, this needs to be managed by increasing our empirical knowledge of population movements and planning resource allocation accordingly.

Finally, we must look at the provision and distribution of public resources holistically: as a means of continuing to expand the pie for all, and not only as a means of eating a small piece of the pie today.

Tara Polzer is the co-ordinator of the Citizenship and Boundaries Initiative of the Forced Migration Studies Programme, University of the Witwatersrand. This article first appeared at www.sacsis.org.za

This article was originally published on page 13 of The Cape Argus on June 17, 2008

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