Community fights xenophobia

2010-07-06 20:55

Cape Town – With the rumoured forced removal of foreign nationals from communities around the country set to begin in less than a week, the community of Site C in Khayelitsha is going on an anti-xenophobia initiative to make sure that no incidences of violence connected to that rumour unfold.

“We don’t want to take it as just a rumour,” community leader and member of the newly-formed Site C Action Committee Against Xenophobia, Ken Monelo, told News24.

The group, which was formed on June 29 2010, has embarked on community education programmes including mini rallies around the area which will culminate in one rally on July 10 at the Blue Wall community centre in Site C.

“When you go to shebeens and listen to people talk, it is seemingly serious,” he said.

In the past few weeks rumours have spread that when the World Cup ends on July 11, foreign nationals should leave the country or they will be forcibly removed by South Africans.

Monelo agreed with the theory that lack of service delivery coupled unemployment was to blame for people who acted out violently against foreigners, whom he said were “soft targets”.

“There are no avenues in so far as grievances are concerned,” he said.

He lamented the lack of political leadership in dealing with xenophobia in the country, but said opening lines of communication between township residents and foreign nationals by community leaders was also important.

He said meetings between foreign business people and the communities in which they live would go a long way towards repairing relations.

Foreign business people, mostly Somalis, have borne the brunt of xenophobic violence in the Western Cape.

Just a week ago, a Somali shop owner was killed in Site C, Abdi Aden, a spokesperson for the Somali Retailers Association, told News24.

Still hopeful

“Yesterday gunmen broke into a shop and seriously injured a shop owner in Thembani,” said Abdi who says he has also had his shop looted by a xenophobic mob.

Despite this and the looming threat of large scale violence, Abdi said he was confident that initiatives such as the one being spearheaded by the area’s anti-xenophobia group and government intervention would help, especially since the rumours have helped communities and government get “prepared” for that possibility.

But for some community members the rumour is just fuel.

“They must go home. They must be taken out of here. Their ancestors miss them,” Thembekile Sizane told News24 as members of the Site C Action Committee Against Xenophobia started setting up a public announcement system at a local taxi rank as part of its awareness programme.

“They are now fighting for land with us,” he said. “And if necessary, I will be violent” he said.

Public telephone operator Doris Kholose, from the nearby informal settlement of Harare, told News24 most foreign nationals around her home had started to leave.

“They must go. There is just too many of them,” she said, adding however that she did not think violence was necessary.

Kholose said she knew that there were people from African countries within South Africa that were “doing good things” and added that she was worried about what would happen to her acquaintances who were foreign nationals.

SA rich enough for all

“But they are taking our jobs. It’s going to get better after they leave,” she said echoing sentiments expressed by many.

Cameroonian businessman and post-graduate political studies student Aabang Ako laid the blame on the government, saying South Africa was rich enough to accommodate foreign nationals.

“It’s not like South Africa is not a rich country. The question is: How do we build capacity?” he told News24.

According to Aabang, if South Africa concentrates on getting its population educated, the scramble for jobs would not be as brutal.

Unfulfilled promises post 1994 democracy were also to blame, he said.

“The State promised too much to people,” he said.

But for a frustrated local vendor at the taxi rank, talk of building capacity and anti-xenophobia awareness was not important.

“I don’t care about what is happening here,” said the woman who would not give her name. “All I care about is that these people are going to set up their things here and make running business hard for me today.”

“I need to make more than this today,” she said waving a lone R20 note.