Actons against Xenophobia in KZN: Support and crisis watch set up

2008-05-27 00:00

A KwaZulu-Natal crisis watch and support network for refugees affected by the outbreak of xenophobic violence was set up by churches and NGOs at a meeting held in the city on Monday.

Church leaders and concerned groups met to develop a systematic counter-xenophobia plan for the province. The meeting heard that in Pietermaritzburg incidents of violence are sporadic and seem to be isolated at this stage.

However, most international households are avoiding going out of their homes and are unable to run their informal businesses due to threats they have received.

Samson Makabaru, chairman of the Pietermaritzburg Refugees’ Association and co-ordinator of the xenophobia response initiative, said most of the people have fled violence in their home countries and their past traumas exacerbated their fear and current trauma.

A Zimbabwean told the meeting organised by the KZN Christian Council (KZNCC) how he was verbally abused and attacked with a knife late on Thursday night. He and his brothers share a room in a house with other tenants.

Their doors and windows were smashed with pangas by people living in the room next to theirs. He said that when the police were called the South Africans convinced them that the Zimbabweans were the troublemakers and the police allegedly threatened to have them deported.

Other refugees said that their being ill-treated and victimised is nothing new and that they have felt unsupported and vulnerable for years.

They said that only in Durban was there significant support for refugees, which already has a network in place.

The meeting decided that four regional support networks (covering the entire province) and linked to Durban will be set up this week. These will be co-ordinated by the KZNCC and ecumenical agencies

Other actions both short and long-term include:

• The regional steering committees will invite representatives of the Home Affairs Department , refugees, the police, municipalities, business and traditional leaders to be part of the committee. The Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness (PACSA) will lead the Midlands Activities; Diakonia is co-ordinating in Durban while the KZNCC regional offices on the south coast, north coast and the Tugela-Amajuba-Mzinyathi area are organising in the rest of KZN.

• The meeting agreed that while the violence was reprehensible and not to be condoned, it was necessary to understand and respond to legitimate grievances of poor communities. In this regard they planned to hold provincial wide educational and awareness activities.

• A mass march to take place in Durban on May 30 with other civil society groupings to show solidarity against xenophobia. The March will start at 10 am from Albert Park to Gugu Dlamini Park. A mass petition to be launched by the Centre for Public Participation today.

• The co-ordination of donations and relief efforts and the establishment of the 24 hour provincial hotline — the details of which will be made available shortly.

• Anyone wanting to offer help, request help or find out more can contact: Mervin Abrahams 033 342 0052 (Pietermaritzburg); Reverend Isaac Ngema 036 635 3128 (KZN interior); Reverend Bheki Buthelezi 035 464 1058 (north coast); Dr Lulu Bodla 039 682 1834; Cyril Mwandla 031 310 3500 (Durban) or KZNCC Provincial coordinator Dr Lucas Ngoetjana 033 345 4819.

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