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Threats of Violence Mar World Cup

June 25, 2010

South AfricaAnti-Refugee Threats 
Accompany World Cup Excitement

Guest writer Margaret Green is a psychotherapist with The Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture, in Cape Town, South Africa and writes the organization’s blog.  

Threat of Xenophobic  Violence in South Africa
Margaret Green, Cape Town, South Africa — 24 June 2010 

A week ago, one of the clients of the Trauma Centre, a woman from the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) was taking a minibus-taxi to Cape Town city centre. Conversation turned to the World Cup. The gaartjie (who collects the money and calls out the taxi’s destination), said that African ‘foreigners’ were not supporting the South African team. The situation rapidly grew ugly and the driver announced that anyone in the taxi who couldn’t speak isiXhosa (spoken in the Cape region of South Africa), would have to leave. A South African Coloured woman spoke up, saying that what they were doing was wrong – “these are your own black brothers and sisters!”
          My client asked for her money back so she could take another taxi. They said, “It’s not your President on this money so it doesn’t belong to you!” Scared of being thrown out of the taxi or worse, the two women found themselves on a street corner not far from where they had started. 

DRC Refugee: J. Redden/UNHCR

 This is just one of many daily incidents of rejection, humiliation and fear that refugees and migrants are experiencing in Cape Town at the moment. In the past two months, in fact, most of our refugee clients at the Cape Town Trauma Centre report having been threatened with death if they do not leave the area by the end of the World Cup. Press reports indicate that such threats to refugees from fellow township residents are widespread.
          Such threats are not new, but have been mounting this year. In response, it was reported on 23 June that the South African Council of Churches met with President Jacob Zuma to request that he take seriously the risk of xenophobic violence breaking out when the World Cup is over on July 11th. Earlier this month, the government announced the setting up of an Inter-ministerial  Committee to deal with incidents and threats of attack on foreigners. 
          The difficulty is that these measures have not filtered down to the police or Home Affairs officials on the ground – the people to whom refugees are expected to report such incidents or threats. They are liable to be as ‘Afrophobic’ as anyone else.  

Zimbabwe Refugee: Refugees United Australia (see article link below)

Background:  In 1994, the first democratically-elected government of South Africa opened the borders to refugees from other African countries. This was in response to the generous welcome South African exiles had received in African countries during the apartheid years.
          In the 90’s refugees came mostly from Somalia, Angola, Rwanda and Burundi but there were also many economic migrants from other African countries – South Africa being seen as the most prosperous and developed country in sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, refugees are more likely to be fleeing from the war-torn and destabilized Democratic Republic of Congo, the continuing civil war in Somalia or political and economic repression in Zimbabwe.
          In May 2008, as Zimbabweans began to cross the border in large numbers, because of the crisis in their country, xenophobic violence spread through the cities of South Africa. Sixty-two people were killed, more were wounded, and shops, homes and possessions looted. Within the context of structural violence in the townships – high unemployment and lack of service delivery –  South Africans perceive displaced people as competing with them for scarce resources. In such circumstances, these perceptions just add more fuel to the existing fires, violence simmers, and refugees live in fear. 

[On a slightly more positive note: Margaret writes in an email: “Incidentally UNHCR did organise some township football matches in the Johannesburg region. The teams included South Africans, refugees and migrants and they competed against other townships. An inclusive approach which is important given the current context!” — See our prior post, Refugee World Cup.] 

Robert K. Silverman: Refugee Crisis Created in South Africa
Refugees United Australia: Zimbabwean Refugees Targeted Ahead of World Cup
Allyn Gaestel: Preparation for World Cup Disenfranchises Poor

One Comment leave one →
  1. Judith Yacov permalink
    June 28, 2010 9:43 AM

    I read the blog and was amazed to get an idea of the enormity of the refugee problem, the jealousies aroused among the locals who want their jobs protected from the competition of refugees. Sounds like building a melting pot is a tough business in Africa, when the pot seems to be a little on the empty side and can’t feed everyone.

    Carry on the important work of making people aware and willing to help.

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