||Durban has no permanent solution for displaced people, writes Carlos Bruen
The Mercury (Eye on Civil Society) 23 July 2008
By Carlos Bruen
Human rights continue to take a beating in South Africa, nearly two
months after the wave of xenophobic violence killed dozens and displaced
more than 60 000 immigrants.
Durban municipal authorities and the police, especially city manager
Michael Sutcliffe, again embarrassed the city on national television
last week, by refusing help to more than 170 desperate eastern
Democratic Republic of the Congo refugees who had taken refuge on the
city hall steps.
Several of the refugees were also badly beaten.
It is not American, German or, like me, Irish foreigners that have
become the target of a frustrated society, however, rather Africans at
the opposite end of society's apex.
As a Statistics South Africa report released last week shows, inequality
continues to worsen, and the country has retreated on vital social
indicators, ranking just 121 out of 177 countries on the 2007/08 UN
human development index.
As DRC refugee Baruti Amisi noted in an Eye on Civil Society column
published in May, the frustrations, disillusions and sufferings of South
Africans were directed at the wrong people during the violence. It has
not stopped. Blame and scapegoating continue as before.
The charges of criminality, of being parasitic on the state or of being
excessively enterprising continue to be levelled at foreign nationals.
The practice of ethnic scapegoating offers political utility for some,
where a crisis is used to deflect blame away from social groups or
institutions more culpable.
This then is easily extended into programmes of ethnic cleansing, of
removal whether through forced displacement, deportation or elimination.
South African intelligence agencies had long reported on xenophobic
tensions, but President Thabo Mbeki denied receiving them.
The African Peer Review Mechanism also warned of the rising tendency of
xenophobia, but Mbeki said it simply was not true. A damning survey by
the SA Migration Project outlines how South Africa exhibits levels of
intolerance and hostility to outsiders.
The state bears a great responsibility. Provincial KZN officials were
brutal to immigrants in Cato Manor earlier this month.
And now Durban bureaucrats claim xenophobia is no longer an issue and
have reneged on an earlier commitment at the height of the violence to
provide shelter for the displaced.
Sutcliffe claims the city has done all it can, and anything else is not
"within budget". But the R2 million already spent is far outweighed by
the damage he continues to do in the run-up to 2010. Such action is
fuelling rumours that Durban is not sufficiently hospitable to host
World Cup tourists.
Sutcliffe claims migrants are being unco-operative by not choosing to
either return to their country of citizenship or to the housing they
rented before the violence. Given that the majority come from conflict
zones, and that further xenophobic attacks are possible in Durban
townships while services are still in short supply, it is questionable
whether they have been given any real choice by the municipality.
They have been left with no choice but to live on the city streets or in
Last month's report to the municipality's civilian oversight committee
by metro police suggested establishing processing centres to deal with
the growing number of homeless immigrants. The municipality's executive
committee considers it this week.
However, some question how such centres will assist those who have been
displaced, as opposed to merely being holding centres for transfer or
deportation. Instead of receiving protection, safe shelter and having
their basic needs met, the displaced have been met with continued
evictions and forced removal. Community halls and churches have run out
of food and money and can no longer offer shelter. Officials refuse to
provide accommodation, healthcare or other basic services.
In Albert Park, more than 170 people are sheltering after a forced
removal from the city hall on July 11 by metro police.
Most people at this camp are from the DRC, where more than four million
were killed by ruthless warlords often co-operating with transnational
One man, Hulubatu, recalls how, on July 11, he and the rest of the men,
women and children had no option but to sleep outside after they were
dumped in the park by police.
There was no shelter in the park until later the next day, when a
temporary marquee paid for by faith organisations was set up. However,
the shelter in the park has no running water and, until last Tuesday,
had no sanitation facilities.
This temporary set-up, insecure and without basic services, is
considered illegal by the authorities. Those donating the facilities
wish to remain anonymous, Hulubatu states, citing donor fear of
Another DRC refugee, called Aziza, sees the marquee in Albert Park as
her only option for now. She and the others cannot return to the DRC
where their lives are threatened.
She says that they cannot return to houses in the communities where they
lived before the violence either.
Last weekend, some university academics held a picnic with the refugees
in a sunny Albert Park, bringing temporary smiles to the faces of people
tired of this ordeal.
But temporary is also the nature of their shelter. People do not know
when, but they are certain they will be removed soon.
Have officials already forgotten the values applauded and commitments
made during the UN World Conference against Racism, Racial
Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban in 2001? No
doubt we will be deafened by similar hollow applause at the Durban
Review Conference in 2009.
# Carlos Bruen is a visiting PhD scholar from University College Dublin,
based at the UKZN Centre for Civil Society.