Xenophobic attacks re-enacted

2013-06-13 14:54

A burning shack and a flurry of people running with children screaming, their meagre belongings clutched on their backs, other items scattered on the floor, sirens blazing, firefighters battling to douse the flames of the shacks burning!

It is not a movie scene or another act of looting in Diepsloot, but a simulation exercise aimed at improving reaction during crisis situations.

Student participants from the University of the Witwatersrand’s Graduate School of Public and Development Management programme were called to respond to a fictitious burning informal settlement, while displaced members of the settlement were evacuated to a nearby place of safety, things got complicated when “the rain” started to pour, and the displaced had to flee to another camp, luckily, humanitarian assistance was provided by the aid organisations who responded to the situation. The simulation exercise was being enacted at the City Of Johannesburg Fire station in Lenasia.

With so many incidents of xenophobic attacks and looting of foreign owned shops in Sebokeng, Evaton, Orange Farm, Diepsloot in Gauteng, Kroonstad in Free Sate and Green Park in Port Elizabeth in recent times, this simulated scene could easily become reality.

Four years ago, Wits University, in partnership with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) and Doctors without Borders (MSF) launched a six-week intensive graduate programme to deal with effective crisis response.

“The programme trains Africa’s humanitarian practitioners from government, the UN and NGOs to civil society groups to be more effective in emergency crisis response across the region,” said Bridgett Steffen, the academic champion for the Wits programme.

Smith went on to say “Africa is faced with the many challenges requiring aid from Western countries but does not have its own capacity building programme to cope with the demands of humanitarian aid- this programme provides such training and equips a range of stakeholders to deal with crisis situations.”

The programme since inception, four years ago, has trained 154 participants from all over the world, with 81% participants being from across Africa.

Tebogo Moekoena from City of Johannesburg fire department said “one can never be too prepared for these kind of situations, even though we do our own drills, such a simulation exercise helps us manage use of resources and prepares us for the real situation”.

“It is stimulating, challenging and useful for someone like me who sits in an office to really connect with reality. With this training I will be better placed to play a role in real situations” said Sibusiso Ncube from the Department of International Relations and Corporation (Dirco) about the programme.

The Wits Graduate School of Public and Development Management’s humanitarian and development programmes offer a range of capacity development interventions designed to equip the 21st century emergency, humanitarian and development worker with the skills and analytical capacity to engage effectively within this challenging sector said Steffen.

The programme is designed for practitioners and policy makers such as NGO workers, government officials, and staff of multilateral agencies such as the UN, the media, civil society, donors and persons wishing to enter the humanitarian field.

At the end of the six weeks of training, the participant students will graduate with two certificates, the Certificate in Humanitarian Policy and the Certificate in Humanitarian Practice, along with a Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance.

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