Friday, July 11, 2008
the aftermath of the xenophobic violence that erupted in South Africa
in May, the "reintegration" of displaced people into their communities
became a buzz word, but with few concrete ideas how that could be
achieved. Paarl, a town in the Western Cape Province's winelands, may
have figured out a way.
In the Western Cape, 5,600 of the
22,000 people run out of their homes by the violence are still living
in local community halls or one of the province's five main camps for
the displaced, according to Palesa Morudu, spokesperson at the
provincial disaster management centre. Although no firm deadline has
been set, she says the provincial government would like people out of
the shelters by the end of July.
Paarl, 60km from Cape Town,
South Africa's second city, is one of just a handful of stories of
successful reintegration. Attacks against foreign nationals in the
Drakenstein Municipality, in which Paarl is located, broke out on 23
May in the sprawling township of Mbekweni, almost two weeks after the
initial violence began in townships in Johannesburg, South Africa's
By the end of May, after a concentrated
effort by local officials and community leaders, 430 foreign nationals
that had fled their homes were peacefully returned to their
communities. Just 20 people remain at a camp set up in the nearby town
of Wellington, waiting for documents that will allow them to return to
their native Zimbabwe.
Paarl had a number of factors in its
favour: The events in Johannesburg had served as a warning to police in
the area, and – like many other parts of the Western Cape – most of the
people who fled Mbekweni were displaced by the fear of violence rather
than actual attacks.
Many in Paarl also credit the swift work
by the police and creative community-based solutions for keeping a lid
on the crisis, which simmered on for two months in other parts of the
Quick police work
two days before violence broke out in Mbekweni - a mixed "coloured" and
black community - a Paarl West Community Policing Forum held a meeting
with officials from the Drakenstein Municipality to discuss plans,
should the trouble in Johannesburg spread to their area.
police identified potential "hotspots" where violence was most likely
to erupt but, according to Tommy Matthee, executive director of
community services in the municipality, no one thought it would
Zimbabwean Wellington Meda, who works as a
security guard in a shopping mall not far from Mbekweni, remembers the
night of the attacks: "I was walking with my three friends and they saw
a group of guys walking towards us. They told me to hide behind them
because they said there was going to be trouble." He said the men
grabbed him by the shirt, which he managed to slip out of before
running to a nearby police car.
Months after Meda's attack, a
large sign in the Mbekweni police station still instructs officers to
report all xenophobic incidents to a specially established hotline.
Both Meda and his co-worker, Clements Kabamba, originally from the
Democratic Republic of Congo, say they could see that the police had
made stemming the violence a priority, and their quick reaction was one
of the reasons the two chose not to flee Mbekweni.
hours of the first attacks on 23 May, those sheltering at police
stations had been moved into tents set up in a park in nearby
Wellington. By early the next morning, the displaced had electricity,
blankets, a hot meal and an onsite health clinic. According to Matthee,
providing immediate relief was easy compared with trying to figure out
the next step: how to return 450 terrified people to their communities.
Discussions about reintegration started less than 48 hours
after the attacks began. The occasion was a meeting in the aftermath of
a march by 500 people through Mbekweni to protest the xenophobia.
Mbekweni was not the only place in the area where attacks against
foreign nationals had occurred, but municipal and community leaders
decided to choose it as the test site for reconciliation.
you wanted to look at the whole reintegration issue, you have to focus
on an area where, if it works, it will have an impact on the other
areas," said Mathee. "So, by addressing the Mbekweni issue we would
have, by and large, addressed the whole reintegration [problem]."
a great deal hinging on the reintegration project, the municipality
made use of ward counsellors like Boniswa Sishuba, who represents
Mbekweni's Chris Hani area, a mixture of informal shacks and houses
that was one of the first places identified as a potential hotspot by
you were to ask me who gave us the breakthrough in terms of
reintegration, I would say it's your ward counsellors, because they had
to lay the foundation for any possible programme of reintegration,"
Matthee said. "They know the area, they know the people where these
problems occurred, and they are in the best position to speak to the
people who might have caused this problem."
The foundation to reintegration
counsellors were deployed to start speaking to their communities about
the return of the displaced people. But what Sishuba heard in her
formal meeting with the Chris Hani community was markedly different to
what she, as a resident, had been hearing on the buses and
"[Those with xenophobic views] didn't come out
in my ward," she said. "I had to prompt them, because in the buses and
in the taxis they will say, '[foreigners] are taking our work [jobs]'
or 'they are taking our girlfriends', [but at the meeting] I was the
one who was saying, 'I want to know what the problem is; is it because
there is no work? Is it girlfriends?' Then nobody wanted to say
anything about that."
Sishuba said she did not see the
violence coming. Although areas like hers were singled out by police,
partially because of its poverty, she and others in the community felt
xenophobia was an excuse to justify what was in fact criminal looting.
the meeting we talked about xenophobia but also, because people's
possessions were stolen, we said, 'this is a crime'," she said. "If you
don't want someone [in the area] you can just chase them [away], but
why must you steal their things?"
Matthee credits ward councillors like Sishuba for paving the way for
reintegration, she says it was ultimately the community that made the
On the afternoon of 8 June, a little over two
weeks after the foreigners were first displaced, the municipality bused
those still sheltering at the Wellington camp to an interfaith service
at Mbekweni's rugby stadium – an idea that beat other suggestions, such
as an integrated football match, as the mechanism for physical
Although there are people, like Hester
Veldsman, who runs the faith-based organisation, Miqlat, who believe
there is some truth to rumours that foreigners are taking
government-issued houses ahead of South Africans, most of the foreign
nationals reintegrated into Mbekweni that day were not dropped at the
doorsteps of their former houses, but at the doorsteps of their South
African landlords. That made the difference, said Shishuba.
was helpful is that the people the foreigners were staying with came
out to support them. Of course, they are making money off them, but
those were the people [landlords] who attended the marches," she said.
Mgajo, a municipality representative, says whether xenophobia will hit
Paarl again is anyone's guess but there are some lessons he has
"There is no guarantee - no one knows what will
happen ... These criminals might not come back, [but] this question of
xenophobia, it needs to have a thorough plan [to counter it]."
Source: IRIN NEWS http://irinnews.org