||Pressure from Durban City Manager Mike Sutcliffe - whose police nickname is now “the Great White Shark” - and the prospect of the 2010 World Cup were apparently the reasons municipal police attacked refugees on November 1 and compelled them to flee Albert Park last Saturday.
The 47 refugees, largely 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 - now on display at UKZN’s Malherbe Library and on our website www.nu.ac.za/ccs
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 officials. 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 attacked by cops on the steps of City Hall in July, when Sutcliffe first encountered them; and now as punching bags for a vicious police force which originally moved them to the Park four months ago.
Subsequently, the cops have become even more reckless and violent, regularly imposing the death penalty on suspects before being charged.
We interviewed police in charge of the November 1 attack, which hospitalized Aziza Wilongdja, a mother of six who subsequently fled to Gabarone. Constable Kwesi Matenjwa 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).
Mthenjwa: 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?
Mthenjwa: 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?
Mthenjwa: 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: The white shark? Who is the great ‘white shark’?
Mthenjwa: That’s what I’m saying. You know, I’m a human being and I don’t want to say things that at the end of the day, maybe they will bring fire to me.
Q: And you are fairly sure that you have to follow these [eviction orders] because they come from the very top, is that Mike Sutcliffe?
Mthenjwa: Thank you, thank you!
Last week, the former UKZN planner told The Mercury the refugees are “criminals”. A few months ago, Dr Sutcliffe told the Mail&Guardian he is a “Marxist geographer”.
We’re also academics and believe this to be profoundly disrespectful to both words. Actually, Sutcliffe reminds us of traditions more closely associated with Pol Pot or Serbian ethnic cleansers, 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 United Nations report labeled 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 brutalized 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 2000 square km 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 made”.
According to a recent investigation by Michael Deibert of CorpWatch, “A November 2007 report by a special commission of 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.”
SA reparations to the DRC should be negotiated, too. The Mbeki government bent over backwards to inject SA mining houses into the DRC, even lending the Kinshasa government R760 million in 2002 so as to repay the IMF for 1970s-80s loans to the dictator Mobutu, in exchange for easy entry by Joburg mining houses. The UN documented several SA firms’ role in the DRC’s war-time 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 meager funds were not enough 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 Sutcliffe finally drove them out and underground.
The Great White Shark mauls his subjects again and again: more than 700 informal economy traders arrested in a single day in 2006; anti-privatisation municipal bus drivers and Abahlali shack-dwellers denied their rights to march in protest; street children and women beggars at intersections; sexworkers; fisherfolk; working-class residents near South Durban’s toxic industry; crime victims from Wentworth’s burgeoning nightclubs; and the Glenwood hoi-polloi angered by the misspelling of an ANC heroine’s streetname.
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 victimized remain fragmented – for now.
(Patrick Bond directs the UKZN Centre for Civil Society; Hinely is a Georgetown University Center for Democracy and Civil Society visiting scholar at CCS; and Meth is a CCS researcher.)