Durban Action Against Xenophobia

Feedback from meetings and activities


The Durban Refugee Service Providers Network (DRSPN) is a forum comprising of 11 organisations i.e. Lawyers for Human Rights, Mennonite Central Committee Refugee Project; International Organisation for Migration, Red Cross, Siyagunda Association ; Union of Refugee Women, International Solidarity; Centenary School, Bechet Secondary School and SA National Zakaat Fund(SANZAF) formed for the purpose of advocating an d lobbying regarding refugee issues.

Many of us in civil society have been intensively engaged over the last 10 days in responding to and deal with threats and actual violent attacks against foreign nationals and the humanitarian crisis that unfolded in this province and countrywide. The support and generosity of the public and civil society organisations has been enormous and we note that as civil society we have been providing food, blankets, toiletries and other amenities along with medical care, and legal consultation to this body of distressed people.

While this work must still continues and ongoing support is still required the DRSPN believes that it is important that we also give due attention to the longer term challenge of addressing this scourge of Xenophobia.

The DRSPN therefore invites you to attend and actively join in partnership with the network to plan and jointly launch our Campaign to Combat Xenophobia. You may be aware that 20th June is World Refugee Day and we firmly believe that to effectively honour this day requires that we focus our efforts on a longer term initiative to promote and protect the rights of foreigners in South Africa and to facilitate the effective reintegration of displaced foreigners.

Sherylle Dass, Chairperson, Room S104, Diakonia Centre, 20 Diakonia Avenue
Tel: (031) 3010531 Email:

Tuesday 3 June update

Today we focussed on trying to work out why Durban Metro and the other official governmental bodies had failed to get organised to handle the refugee crisis, and see what could be done about this.

The good news is the Province is officially taking over the problem, and they have surveyed several sites with a view establishing 3-5 large refugee camps in Durban. Hopefully these will be properly designed and serviced up to United Nations specifications, and will go a long way to ensuring that until a further resolution is reached. The refugees will at least be sheltered under safe and sanitary conditions, while being fed and otherwise provided for. Province has considerable funds and resources, and there is at least the possibility that it could be done properly.

On the down side it became even clearer that Durban Metro just hasn’t got their game together. One of the key problems is the head Disaster Management Forum, who (to be polite) has not yet inspired any confidence in the people who are actually working on the ground. His attitude has basically been that the Red Cross, churches and other NGOs should handle the problem. So the City has not really felt that it needs to do much beyond that.

A major issue within this is a culture of spin-doctoring (those of us at UKZN will be familiar with this) where officials at many different levels believe it is more important to say that things are okay than for them to actually be okay. So even the people that are trying to monitor the problem are led to believe that it is more under control than it actually is.

This leads us to focus on a quite specific problem – the gap between when current supplies we provided to Red Cross run out and when the Provicial refugee camps are effectively up and running. At this stage nobody knows how big that gap will be, but it presents a potentially serious crisis. We believe that Durban Metro should step into this gap, and those of you that still intend to contact your local Ward Councillor or the press, should focus on this very specific issue.

I spoke to Councillors Gloria Borman (ANC) and Sue Burrows (DA) and they were quite sympathetic, but also seemed to have been told that the problem is much less serious that it really is. They had both at least gone to see the shelters in the Wards.

Cyril Vezi of Red Cross has applied for 3 months funding to provide food for the refugees, but the question is also how long it will take for that to become available. Durban seems to be a low priority within the national Red Cross hierarchies because we have far fewer refugees than Gauteng or the Western Cape. In any case, it is once again Durban Metro expecting NGOs to do their work for them.

At the same time the official plan is to help those refugees who want to return to their home countries to do so. Unfortunately for many of them that is just not an option, especially for those from DRC and Burundi, who have fled civil wars and have nothing to go back to. The same applies in a less drastic way to many Zimbabweans.

At a later stage we will consider the problem of having people staying indefinitely in refugee camps in the middle of a hostile city – a very weird situation by any estimation. But sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, and today we will simply focus on the period between when current resouces dry up and the refugee camps are up and running.

Kathleen Pithouse and Derek Morgan on

4 June meeting with Province


We have just returned from the “Meeting between Government & Support Institutions on the Xenophobia Attacks in KZN” today at the Elangeni. The meeting was attended by some 80 people ranging from government, churches, NGOs and other religious organisations. The MEC from Housing (Mike Mabuyakulu) chaired the meeting and was assisted by MEC for Safety and Security and MEC for Social Development. Dep Mayor L Naidoo and the speaker from eThekwini also attended.

They started by expressing their gratitude to non-governmental organisations and individuals who provided an immediate response to the crisis.

They presented their position and priorities regarding the crisis, this includes:

1) The provincial government has established a technical task team to respond to the crisis.

2) Tomorrow (Thursday) the team will be visiting 10 of the sites to do a needs analysis.

3) They have committed to providing food and other immediate resources to the sites. The Civil Society Advocacy Programme together with the SAHRC and Dep of Social Development are already coordinating the collection and distribution of food to sites.

4) The team is also committed to providing weekly visits from health care workers to the sites and they are aware of the need for trauma counselling.

5) The team is aware that there is a need to bring the Dep of Home Affairs on board.

6) They are starting a process of registering people at sites. This will be done to facilitate relief assistance and to help those who have lost their identity papers, not to distinguish between those who have legal status and those who do not.

7) They will work to reintegrate people back into communities. Where this is not possible, they will work to provide alternative sites that meet acceptable standards.

8) They will not repatriate people as a matter of course, nor will they not deport anyone. But they will provide assistance to those who request to return home – this will be done in consultation with embassies.

9) The SAPS have arrested 71 people for attacks on foreign nationals and these people will be vigorously prosecuted. More arrests are imminent.

10) There will be efforts made to promote community dialogue to facilitate reintegration and more long-term solutions, starting with those communities where violence and intimidation have occurred.

11) There is a need for increased and ongoing communication between all those involved in relief efforts.

12) There will be ongoing regular meetings between government and non-governmental organisations and individuals who are providing support.

13) The eThekwini Municipality’s efforts have been focussed on supporting the various sites at police stations.

Our general sense from the meeting was that the Provincial government is taking this issue very seriously and they are aware of the need for immediate intervention. They also stressed that although they are willing to provide whatever help is necessary, they do not necessarily want to broadcast this, in fear of igniting further attacks against foreign nationals. As a result the communication within departments and with the public has suffered.

Gil Harper on 5 June

Xenophobia workshop

“I attended a workshop on xenophobia organised by DDP and KZNCC at Diakonia on Thursday 5 June. This was well attended by various provincial stakeholders, including eThekwini Municipality. While the Municipality has been criticised for not being active or visible in the aftermath of the xenophobic attacks, it was interesting to hear another side of the story. The KZN Refugee Council reported that there were early warning signs of xenophobia attacks and plans in January and that the Refugee Council had worked closely with both SAPS and the city to defuse the situation and the fact that xenophobic violence in May was limited in KZN and eThekwini, as apposed to other regions, can be attributed to the stakeholders working together behind the scenes. Further, various stakeholders reported that when the attacks began in Gauteng, KZN stakeholders immediately started working together and this minimised the violent xenophobic episodes in our province. I think it is important for people to know this.”

Lubna Nadvi on 5 June

Mobilising Against Xenophobia in KZN

This note is an update of a meeting held today at the iTrump Project Offices, convened by the SACP, Cosatu and other civil society groups. It was attended by various refugee and foreign nationals groups, activists and community leaders from around KZN. A summary of some of the issues discussed follows;

1) There is a need to set up a provincial Coalition to co-ordinate activities (including civil society, government and political parties). This idea was adopted and sub-committees will soon be set up, comprised of representatives of various coalition members, to take on critical issues. The name is yet to be finalised, but the tentative name of Coalition against Xenophobia, Racism, Discrimination and Poverty was proposed.

2) Four key areas were identified as being areas that need attention
i) Humanitarian aid and support for foreigners still living in camps and safe-houses
ii) Integration / Re-integration of foreigners who have fled from their communities, back into their neighbourhoods
iii) Education programme (short term and long term)
iv) Political Mobilisation and solidarity actions in support of victims

3) There was a proposal that foreigners be asked to fill in forms (to be administered either via the coalition or other local government structures), indicating whether they want to;
a) Leave SA and go back to their home countries
b) Stay in SA
c) Don’t want to go back home or stay in SA, but prefer to go to another country (as an economic migrant worker)

4) There was an agreement that there would be some solidarity action on or around the 16 June (march / mass rally), the details of which would be circulated once they were finalised

5) The forming of Street committees in townships and areas affected by violence was encouraged and community leaders were asked to drive this programme. The street committees would have various functions including monitoring, education, advocacy and networking

Tom Schwarer’s account of the donation campaign

Sorting out food supplies at Red Cross

Wow, what a day.

Met with everyone at Bulwer Park to put flowers & messages around the tree. It was a good way to get the whole drive started for me – I’ve not been in the loop until now.

Headed off at 2:30 and met Sarah up at Richden’s Spar – she’d managed to fill 2 trolleys in 2 hrs without fliers.
Loaded up 3 trolleys into my car and headed for Cato Manor.
Met Anslyn as he was heading out to Verulam to drop food off.
Checked in with Cyril from Red Cross, and saw Brian who was capturing all the data on how much food they’d sent out for their records. He’d been at it since 10.
Spent the rest of the afternoon and evening unpacking and sorting food and goods into sections – tea, cereal , biscuit & sweets. Packed out a huge amount of baby formula with a nice Indian lady who apparently had been in and out 3 times already today. So much baby formula. Mountains of oranges. Racks of canned food. Tons of soap. A pile of toilet paper and nappies.
Damn Nyala Maize Meal bags split really easily.
3 set of folks dropped by with food from shopping centers. Someone from Glenwood, a couple of people with their own goods, Sasha came in with a full Peugeot at about 6.

We helped Cyril take about 300 bags of padkos (for lack of a better word) to the Malawians waiting transportation from Cato Manor police station.
They all boarded 2 busses – Brian went in with Cyril, and told me later Cyril said a few words with the help of a translator – apologized for the situation they now found themselves in. Very poignant apparently. An aid worker was leaving with the busses to go up to Malawi, but he was planning to come back for the next 2 bus loads, so it seems this is quite far from over.

I don’t quite understand this whole situation. There’s a whole lot of positive reaction, but the whole situation is really messy, and it doesn’t seem to be being resolved by anyone with any clout.

Anyhow – am at Waterfall Spar tomorrow, and taking Brian down again to capture more data for Red Cross. Hopefully we’ll go down and help to sort out food at Cato Manor again – there’s the most gigantic pile in the corner to be sorted through…

Collecting food donations & sorting food supplies at Red Cross
Again, what a day. A bit longer today.

I collected Brian to take him down to capture more data. Got to Red Cross at 10am – no-one there. Back up to Hillcrest to work the trolley at Richden’s Spar.
Received a hell of a lot over 3 hours – 5 trolley’s worth, and Sarah’s last trolley from yesterday. Almost everyone we gave fliers to dropped off something – even the lady who said “They should just go” came back with 2,5kg Maize meal. It worked really well having 2 people working – I chatted up people, Brian packed out trolleys into boxes and ferried them to the car.
From what we saw yesterday at Red Cross it made good sense to pack the boxes by food type – 1 box of tins, 1 of apples…
By 1pm my car couldn’t hold any more, so we left and drove slowly down to Cato Manor.
Couldn’t unload the car as the station room was chock-full, so we got down to Cyril’s plan of sorting the immense amount of canned goods to make room for everything else. 2 young muslim guys came round and helped with the baked beans until they had to head off for prayer. Anthony came round and made 1300 phonecalls. Needed someone to take over from Margaret at Westville.
Headed back home, and after back & forth, landed up going down to Westville with Brian & my 6 year old daughter, Caitlin. Dropped off some new fliers at Pavillion on the way.
Westville much quieter than Richdens – Margaret had a full trolley, and had borrowed clips from the bookdealer to hold the poster on the trolley.
Caitlin got on with handing out fliers and coaxing people into giving food – they were easily won over. Her and Brian packed up boxes again – 2 trolleys in all by 4:45.
Headed back across the highway to Cato Manor to drop the food off – Cyril still under a huge amount of food and no space for more. Sorted even more cans of baked beans – result is a pile up to my shoulders – I think at least 1000 cans of baked beans, and then pilchards, mixed & curried veg, spaghetti in tomato sauce, meatballs, bully beef and sweetcorn. And last night’s corner of unsorted stuff was now a mountain of Nyala maize meal. Caitlin packed bag after bag of Purity into 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th foods.

And then we went home, around 6pm.

Have written a note for Caitlin’s teacher explaining what she got up to – she was completely loving the whole experience.

I’m back at work for the week – sure I’ll feel a bit of dislocation from the humdrum of the office.
Anyhow, it’s been really great to speak to people, from the public who were really eager to give, to Cyril, Gugu and Siybonga at the Red Cross.
Well done to Anthony, Eva and the rest of the team from DAAX – I definitely wouldn’t have had a place to put my effort without your planning.
Thank you,



  1. I suggest we set up a monitoring team – to monitor whether the Provincial Govt does what it said it would do and to report conditions in the various sites for refugees. Province has undertaken to:
    1) do needs analysis of the sites
    2) provide food and basics to the sites
    3) weekly visits from health care workers
    4) register people at sites
    5) reintegrate people – what does this involve and will they do the necessary ground-work of ensuring communities are safe?
    6) Hold regular meetings between govt and NGO’s providing support

    I would be happy to visit the sites every monday. Is there anyone who would be keen to help?

    Province has not undertaken to provide trauma counselling. Can we push for them to provide this? People need counselling before they can make a decision about whether to return home or be reintegrated.

    Comment by Alice Thomson — June 11, 2008 @ 8:57 pm | Reply

  2. I strongly support this suggestion. How will constitute such a team?
    Any volunteers?

    Comment by durbancrisis — June 13, 2008 @ 11:36 am | Reply

  3. Those who would like to join a voluntary group/team to monitor conditions at the refugee sites and report to the media, government and NGOs please phone me on 084 564 3891. It will involve visiting some of the sites and writing up a report on a weekly basis and will involve 1 morning or afternoon each week. Thanks

    Comment by Alice Thomson — June 18, 2008 @ 12:46 pm | Reply

  4. Dear all
    I visited the refugee shelter in town yesterday, 30th June. The situation is dire. There are more than 150 Congolese. Some came from Glenwood Community Church and 47 came from Pinetown NG Kerk. There are only 4 toilets and 1 shower. THe kitchen is tiny and has 1 plate on the stove that works. Red Cross came on Saturday to bring food but they have nothing for the babies. This was a temporary measure and apparently they were supposed to leave yesterday. However Eric Epelgren from Disaster Management, Ethekwini municipality (who is paying for the accommodation) is on leave. They have had no visits from any other NGOs or govt since they arrived there on 25th June. No one from the health department has visited. The refugees are calling on the UNHRC to step in and provide a refugee camp for them as an interim measure untill they can safely go back to the community or go to another country. I am getting them to sign a petition which I will collect today.

    I had a call from 1 of the refugees last night to say that 20 refugees from Greyville Methodist Church had been left on the steps of the city hall last night and would have to sleep there. They are having a meeting on the steps of the city hall this morning to see what can be done. Yesterday I spoke to the minister at Umbilo Methodist who said there 18 refugees had been taken to Greyville so ther are no more refugees there. Can we please get the press involved and issue a statement calling on the UNHRC to step in?

    Comment by Alice Thomson — July 2, 2008 @ 5:50 pm | Reply

  5. Dear all
    Yesterday, 1 July, I went to visit the refugees who were left on the steps of the city hall by Greyville Methodist Church. This includes the 13 who were at Greyville and the 18 who were at Umbilo Methodist Church and then transfered across to Greyville. Altogether there were 41 outside the city hall. So there might be some 10 people who joined the group. The story from Greyville is that extra people started coming into the church and the refugees became quite abusive. Aslam Khan from UNOCHA came. I urged him to set up a refugee camp as an interim measure.

    I attended a meeting at the Disaster Management Centre. There were mostly people from Disaster Management, also Home Affairs, Head of the Red Cross, MCC, UN. I took one of the leaders of the refugees, Akyamba Hulubatu. Someone from Disaster Management said that a sight for a refugee sight has been identified at what used to be the SPCA in Cato Manor (next to the Cato Manor police station). He said that unless the City gives the green light the won’t move people. He said Michael Sutcliffe has grave reservations about creating a refugee camp for “obvious reasons”. provincial govt says there are advantages and disadvantages to having all refugees at one or 2 sights.There policy is repatriation or reintegration. Apparently Sutcliffe did meet with the management from Glenwood Community Church and stated that the matter is for the Provincial and National Govt. The person from MCC said that the decisions from Prov Govt have not been implemented. City management were not at the meeting so she said that the meeting was a complete waste of time. Home Affairs said that govt policy is no refugee camps and no provision of food – people are equal citizens and can work and have acces to health care and education, just like SA citizens. THe Head of Disaster Management stated “This is not a disaster. There is no crisis. There has been no information of attacks from SAPS. People must be reintegrated and must go back to the places they came from” He handed out a list of all the displaced people with the areas they came from. he said there are no problems in Umbilo, no problems in Point Rd. No incidences of violence have been reported. Akyamba spoke about the experiences of the refugees being stabbed and beaten. Mr Duze then said that Akyamba should not be in the meeting that they cannot have a meeting about strategy with refugees present. Other people nodded there heads and so we decided to leave.

    The 47 people outside the City Hall were moved to the SPCA last night. Please I need more volunteers to do this work as it is all very demanding.

    Comment by Alice Thomson — July 2, 2008 @ 5:54 pm | Reply

  6. Today, 2 July I visited the sight at the SPCA. People are in a tent with no mattresses. There are 29 people there moved from outside the City Hall by Disaster Management. They were given food last night but not today so I called and emailed Red Cross with the stats. No one is managing the sight. This is a potentially very dangerous situation as the sight is in Cato Manor where there have been alot of tensions and xenophobic incidents. I question the suitability of having the camp there. There are no kitchen facilities – so nowhere to even boil water to prepare formula for babies. I phoned the UN to urge them to establish a refugee camp in a more suitable place – both for these refugees and for the 176 at the shelter in town. There are 7 boys between the ages of 9 and 13 at the sight whose parents are in the shelter in town. I’m not sure why they have been seperated from their parents

    Comment by Alice Thomson — July 2, 2008 @ 6:05 pm | Reply

  7. Hi All
    Here is the final press release. Please not that the earlier one is incorrect.
    “We, members of Durban Action Against Xenophobia, wish to express our grave concern regarding the treatment of people who were displaced by xenophobic violence. The following actions by our government have been most deplorable:
    1) Government’s failure to offer relief to displaced people in terms of shelter, food and basic necessities, leaving the bulk of the stress to the churches, the Red Cross and other faith based organisations.
    2) Provincial Government’s failure to implement decisions made regarding the provision of refugee sites and the provision of food as agreed to at a meeting on 4th June.
    3) Failure of Ethekwini Municipality to support the various sites as agreed to on 4th June.
    4) Failure to invite the UNHCR to establish refugee camps when there was a need for alternative sites. Instead people who were left at the City Hall, when churches could no longer accommodate them, were moved by Disaster Management to unsuitable sites such as the shelter in the city where the conditions are shocking and unacceptable. Others were moved to a hastily set up camp with no manager on site, in unsafe conditions and easy access to the site.
    5) Failure to acknowledge the crisis. We note with dismay Mr Manzi Mlungisa’s (Head of Disaster Management) statement that there is no xenophobia in KZN, that there is no crisis and that displaced people must all return to the areas they came from before the violence. This demonstrates disregard for the real fears of displaced people.
    6) Failure of National Ministry of Social Development to respond to a proposal submitted on 4th June 2008 by a number of national and international social work bodies. This was amongst other things to mobilise social workers within the Department of Social Development to respond to xenophobia in order to work towards re-integration of displaced people back into communities.

    We would also urge our government to:
    1) Set up a refugee camp according to international standards or failing that to invite the United Nations to set up such a camp as an interim measure before people can be safely re-integrated or settled in another country.
    2) Acknowledge the crisis. Those who were repatriated had real fears. The refugees that are currently staying at the various sites are mostly from areas of conflict and cannot be repatriated. Their fears regarding reintegration are also valid.
    3) Implement the proposal by the National Social Work Task Team.

    We call on the United Nations to set up a camp for displaced people.
    We call on the Department of Social Development to mobilise social workers to work towards re-integration of displaced people.”

    Also the Head of Disaster Management is Mr Lungisa Manzi.

    There was a small article in the Daily News today.

    Comment by durbancrisis — July 8, 2008 @ 5:52 pm | Reply

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