||PRESSURE from Durban city manager Michael Sutcliffe - and the prospect
of the 2010 World Cup - were apparently the reasons municipal police
evicted refugees on November 1.
The 47 refugees, mainly women and children, hailed from the eastern
region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their last four months
of suffering in central Durban is documented in a Centre for Civil
Society photographic exhibition We're still here!, snapped mainly by
refugee Delphin Mmbibya. It is now on display at the University of
KwaZulu-Natal's Malherbe Library and on our website www.nu.ac.za
But this week the Albert Park refugees are gone, scattered, convinced
that Durban is hell. One, Akili Kabila, escaped Saturday's raid and
went to Pretoria on Monday to plead - in vain - with United Nations
Two dozen others fled to Botswana, and the rest are unaccounted for,
trying to survive underground.
This is the fourth attack these refugees endured: once as exiles from
the world's most bloody region (suffering an estimated four million
dead); then pushed out of Durban neighbourhoods by xenophobia in May;
then by police on the steps of the city hall in July, when Sutcliffe
first encountered them; and now as punching bags for a police force
which originally moved them to the park four months ago.
Subsequently, we believe, the police in general have become even more
reckless and violent. We interviewed police in charge of the November 1
attack, after which Aziza Wilongdja was taken to hospital. The mother of
six subsequently fled to Gabarone.
A member of the central Durban police station spoke to us four hours
after destroying the refugees' plastic shelter and confiscating most of
their goods (including official refugee papers).
Some of the conversation with him went along these lines: 2010 is going
to be here, so the people from the so-called other countries, when they
come to this country, they must have this image that South Africa, the
city of Durban, is clean, that there are no vagrant people, there are no
traders in the streets.
Q: Did they tell you about the rights of people, that if they are taken
away they must have somewhere to go?
A: Yes. I'll tell you one thing, about the technicalities of the law and
the constitution of this country - I am well aware of it. It's just
that, at some stage, you get thrown in a deep ocean, in a deep sea
whereby you cannot even swim.
Q: And the human rights have drowned with you too, eh?
A: Yes, they have drowned in the sea. No matter how good you are in
swimming, you can't even swim because you are just a small fish in a
deep ocean where only the big boys, the sharks, the so-called white
sharks, exist in the environment.
Q: And you are fairly sure that you have to follow these (eviction
orders) because they come from the very top - is that Michael Sutcliffe?
A: Thank you, thank you!
Last week, Sutcliffe labelled the refugees as criminals. A few months
ago, he told the Mail & Guardian he was a Marxist geographer.
We are also academics and believe this to be profoundly disrespectful to
both words, this ridding the city of poor people and immigrants.
In contrast, the traditions of Karl Marx and humane geography are to
empower the masses and transcend spaces of inequality. Last month, a UN
report labelled South African cities the world's most unequal.
This government merely spouts radical rhetoric and instead of changing
the content of apartheid geography, changes the form, such as the name
of Moore Road to Che Guevara. Meanwhile, thousands of brutalised people
will continue trying to transcend regional spaces of inequality, looking
for relief in Durban.
The Albert Park refugees hailed from an area not unfamiliar to us,
because every day we use one of its main products, coltan, when we make
a cellphone call.
And if we (or our pension funds) have shares in AngloGold Ashanti, we're
doing well by the eastern DRC, thanks in part to the company's
operations in Mongbwalu. Ashanti acquired mining rights to 2 000km2
there in 1996, during the reign of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. By 2005,
Human Rights Watch documented AngloGold Ashanti's payments to notorious warlords of the National Integration Front.
Our central purpose is to find and mine gold profitably, explained its
then chief executive, Bobby Godsell (now Eskom head). Mistakes will be
According to a recent investigation by Michael Deibert of CorpWatch, A
November 2007 report by a special commission of the Congo's ministry of
mines concluded that the terms and lack of transparency in Ashanti
Goldfields' original contract violated Congolese law and was thus
subject to renegotiation.
South African reparations to the DRC should be negotiated, too. The
Thabo Mbeki government bent over backwards to inject local mining houses
into the DRC, even lending the Kinshasa government R760 million in 2002
so as to repay the International Monetary Fund for 1970s-80s loans to
the dictator Mobutu, in exchange for easy entry by Johannesburg mining
houses. The UN documented several South African firms' roles in the
DRC's wartime looting, but no action was taken.
From their Pretoria office, the UN High Commission on Refugees offered
Albert Park's refugees a stingy two-month rental/food reintegration
package, which they rejected because the meagre funds were insufficient
to find accommodation and because more serious problems remain: security
and human rights. Xenophobia was not just momentary, during the May
attacks, but runs much deeper, threatening them daily. Until they were finally driven out and underground.
Others in the city affected in recent months are: more than 700 informal
economy traders were arrested in a single day in 2006;
anti-privatisation municipal bus drivers and Abahlali baseMjondolo
shack-dwellers were denied their rights to march in protest; street
children and women beggars were removed at intersections; action against
sex workers; fisherfolk; working-class residents near South Durban's
toxic industry; crime victims from Wentworth's burgeoning nightclubs, etc.
A coalition of aggrieved South Africans recently turned out another
distant, impervious ruler. Sutcliffe can count himself lucky that the
forces in Durban civil society he has victimised remain fragmented --
# Patrick Bond directs the UKZN Centre for Civil Society, Rebecca Hinely
is a Georgetown University Centre for Democracy and Civil Society
visiting scholar at the centre and Oliver Meth is a Centre for Civil
On The Web