Durban Action Against Xenophobia

July 12, 2008

11 July – Refugees dumped in Albert Park

Filed under: Updates — durbancrisis @ 8:41 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Its Friday night. Its cold. It looks a bit like rain.
Somewhere in the dark in Albert Park are about 120 refugees, mostly women and young children.

Its been a long day. We’ve phoned all the numbers. We’ve called in all the favours. We talked through all the angles.
Its late and we (we who already had breakfast and lunch today) are hungry.
Its late and we (we who have homes) want to go home.
There is no good outcome.
Somewhere in the dark in Albert Park are about 120 refugees, mostly women and young children.

These are not young jobseekers from Mozambique and Malawi, doing the African renaissance equivalent of a post-degree work holiday in London. These are documented refugees from the worst civil war of the last decade – a war that has already claimed 4 million lives. A war, as Human Rights Watch has already documented, funded in part by South African mining companies paying warlords in the Congo for the right to plunder the local mineral wealth. These are people who escaped with their lives after their families and communities had been destroyed.

These are capable entrepreneurs who want only an opportunity to live in peace. No Mike Sutcliff, they don’t want the handouts you claim you cannot give them. They just want to be safe. They just want to not be murdered for having committed the offence of already being so desperate that they are prepared to work even harder for even less pay the people around them. They just want the world to not suddenly again turn into an insane nightmare that tries to destroy them. They just want to war to be over.

We don’t understand, they say. We thought there were human rights in South Africa.

I don’t understand either.

Six weeks ago they were attacked. They fled to church. There they waited while KZN province promised to set up a shelter. Nothing happened. Eventually the church left them on the steps of the city hall. The city dumped some them in what had been the old SPCA building. No food. No electricity. Then they evicted them. They were offered 3 days accommodation in a shelter in town. Then they were evicted. They went to the city hall. They were assaulted by city security. The slept outside the city hall. This afternoon police came and loaded them into vans, telling them they were being taken to Albert Park to meet with officials to organise their accommodation. It was a lie to get them into the vans without causing a public spectacle. There were no officials at Albert Park. There was nothing at Albert Park. There is nothing at Albert Park. Nothing except 120 refugees, mostly women and children.

Sipho is quiet but looks visibly upset. He lives a block away. He warns us about the gang that operates on the other side of the park.
I’m worried about the women and children, he says, its not safe here.
We hear stories of murder and rapes in broad daylight.

I don’t understand, he says pointing to the enthusiastic church service that is gathering momentum in the tent nearly. This is my church, he says.
Its not just the indifference of the worshippers, its that their security were told lock the toilets and deny water to the refugees.
Didn’t Jesus feed the hungry, he asks. Doesn’t the bible tell us to protect the weak?

Sipho is visibly upset. He tries to come up with suggestions. We’ve tried them all.
I’ll stay here as long as I can, he says. I’ll come back in the night and see if everything is okay.

These are my people, says Sipho in desperation. These are my people he says, meaning the refugees.

But he means only this: when they sleep out here, they feel the same cold that I would feel if I had to sleep out here. When strangers come with knives and guns, they feel the same terror that I would feel. Those mothers are worried about their children in the same way that my mother worried about me when I was a child.

But Sipho is not the mayor. Sipho is not the head of disaster management. Sipho is not in the Office of the Premier.

Sipho is just a someone who happens to live a block away from Albert Park, who happened to be in there tonight. Sipho is just someone who can imagine what is its like to be cold, and what it is like to be scared, and what a mother feels when she realizes she may longer be able to protect her child from the kinds of nightmares that are not supposed to happen, but sometimes do.

And Sipho, like us, is worried, and slightly desperate, and doesn’t know what to do.


1 Comment »

  1. […] as the following account shows: I’m about out of ideas. So are the rest of the people involved in Durban Action Against Xenophobia. Even the indomitable Marijke, who has been working tirelessly for the past couple of weeks, sounds […]

    Pingback by Xenophobia is not over « Khanya — July 12, 2008 @ 11:03 am | Reply

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