Displaced and defenceless, SA must act

CAPE TOWN - When xenophobic attacks on foreigners' erupted and spread across South Africa in May this year the country was convulsed.

Then miraculously, civil society swung into action with many ordinary people performing extraordinary acts that prevented much further loss of life. I went on my annual visit to Cape Town, my hometown, in July and visited a temporary camp where people displaced by the attacks were sheltering.   

The predominant nationalities in that camp were Somali and Congolese, with smaller groups of Rwandans, Burundians, Ethiopians and one isolated Zimbabwean family – a grandmother, her daughter and 18 month-old granddaughter, though there are many more Zimbabweans in other camps.  

One tent had been designated a mosque; another, a church. The rest were used for sleeping and eating. Inside those tents were flung rows of mattresses, some propped up high, others on the ground. Children ran in and out whilst adults cooked over electric hotplates on the ground. People were attempting here and there to create orderly living conditions but privacy was impossible as couples and their children were forced to sleep alongside strangers, sharing one blanket between two.   

People latched on to me as a new face hoping that this person might perform the miracle of whisking them away to a safe and secure life. I repeatedly told them that I was a very ordinary grassroots campaigner without special powers or links to wealth or influence, but who would do my best to make sure that they do not remain invisible, that their stories are heard.   

I decided to start a petition to pressurize the South African government to take seriously their responsibility to protect refugees. If anyone would like more information or a copy of the petition please contact: [email protected]

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