Well, our friend arrived and of course I had got nowhere near finishing Caitlin’s comforter (though I am doing well with the embroidered panels and have added a couple more fabrics – a post on the embroidery next week). I decided I wanted to make our friends a special gift. I’d seen a few wonderful blog entries from creative embroiderers who had turned their children’s drawings into embroidered pieces, so I had some inspiration … I had my daughter, who is crazy about art projects, draw pictures of our friends, and then embroidered the pictures on a set of cotton pillowcases. I think they turned out quite nicely…

Slightly blurry photo of rather creased pillowcases.

Slightly blurry photo of rather creased pillowcases.

While they were here, we took our friends on a whirlwind tour of the Victoria Street Market in Durban, and fabric shops in the surrounding area. Needless to say, we shopped up a storm. Just look at all those beautiful fabrics…

Shopping and eating and having fun

Shopping and eating and having fun

And on that shopping spree I got these marvellous plastic-framed mirrors, which I plan to make into a display on the orange wall in our lounge…

Pretty pretty

Pretty pretty

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I wish I could blog about happy things. Today is the first day of the new school term. My kids are pleased to be back at school and seeing their friends. It’s a beautiful day. My life is good. I have an awesome family, amazing friends, things to do and see and read, a warm bed at night, food in the kitchen. For three nights I have dreamed of cold, hungry, frightened people trying to stay safe in a public park in the middle of winter. It’s Durban, so they’re lucky – it could be a lot colder and a lot wetter. Isn’t that a good thing? Yeah, irony is harder to get across in writing. I want to scream. What do we do? What do we do next? I checked over the weekend and we got a lot of press last Friday and Saturday. All the major newspapers covered the story of the refugees being attacked by security gaurds at City Hall, and then being moved out to Albert Park. We called people, we begged people to help. We shouted, we blogged, we posted videos on Youtube. The people are still in the park. They’re still cold and hungry and frightened. There is still no next step. I want to cry. 120 people. So few, and there is nothing we can do to help. What could we possibly do to change the way things are?

I searched this morning for hope. I want to know that the world can change, that my country can change, that we can care more for the people who need us. I want to know that we will not let poor people die quietly of hunger and disease and plain sorrow. I want to know how to do these things and I can’t find the answers.

This is a depressing post. I am depressed. I am lacking in hope. Don’t mind me. Give change to the kid at the robot. Tip the carguard. If you have the courage, shout and write and make a scene. There are ways to change the world. There must be.

I’m about out of ideas. So are the rest of the people involved in Durban Action Against Xenophobia. Even the indomitable Marijke, who has been working tirelessly for the past couple of weeks, sounds exhausted. Our site monitoring team have run out of energy and time. Other members of the group do their best, but we are all volunteers who have homes and children and jobs and studies. Nobody is getting paid to do this. Many of us are repeatedly asked ‘Why are you doing this for foreigners? Would you do it for South Africans?’. My answer to that is ‘Yes. If anyone vulnerable and without any recourse was dumped in a city park by the council, left without protection, shelter or food, abused by the police and by city security gaurds, yes, I would help them as much as I could.’ Right now, these are the people who need our help. These are the people who left their own countries because of war and rape and pain and terror, who came to South Africa because it is a free and democratic country, and who only want a roof over their heads and a little food on the table. But the government, national and local, says ‘the xenophobia is over’ – as if it were that simple – and tells people to just go back to their communities. Some tried that, and were beaten and threatened and chased away all over again. When they turned to the City for help, they were attacked by security gaurds, manhandled into police vans and dumped in Albert Park – a park with no facilities for them, in the open, in the rain, in a very dangerous area.

I salute my colleagues from Durban Action Against Xenophobia who spent a cold and wet and frightening evening in the park with these people. I salute all those who made calls to everyone they could think of to try and find shelter or protection for those with none. The xenophobia is not over. The province has let the refugees down. The City has let the refugees down. And in doing so, they have let us down. I can not believe in a City Council that would treat the most vulnerable people in this way. I can not support them. From where we stand, the xenophobia is not over at least partly because it is alive and well in eThekwini council.

This weekend brought a fresh twist to the ongoing saga that is eThekwini’s refusal to acknowledge their responsibility to people displaced by xenophobia. Our site monitors reported that “On Saturday, 5 July, Mr Manzi Mlungisa from Disaster Management came and told the refugees at the refugee camp that they are on their own as from Monday (7 July). They will come tomorrow and take away the tents and the refugees must leave and fend for themselves. He said that the City is not going to protect anyone anymore. He said that there have been no incidents of xenophobia.”

This despite the fact that our monitors reported last week that people in the temporary shelter at Cato Manor had actually been threatened on site.

So are we imagining that there are still xenophobic threats being made against these people? I doubt it. South Africa’s well-documented history of xenophobia is not going to change overnight just because Thabo Mbeki says everything is fine now. But let’s, for a moment, just assume that the good people of Durban are not planning to threaten, maim or kill these foreign nationals the minute they leave the shelters. Does that make it alright for the City to just dump them on the streets and tell them to get on with their lives? Most of these people have been in shelter for five to six weeks. They lost their homes and jobs (if they had any). They are traumatised and, with good reason or not, remain afraid for their lives. The least the City can do is assist them to reintegrate peacefully into communities, wouldn’t you think?

And if we don’t? Well, what’s 200 more homeless, desperate people on our streets. It’s not like they might turn to crime to feed their children, or be the victims of violence, or incite violence themselves. They’ll just dissappear, right? And then eThekwini can return to being a model municipality that takes care of all its citizens.

The Leaf Blower has a thoughtful blog post about the bureaucratic response in the Western Cape. Seems we are all in the same boat.

So in the last couple of days I’ve been phoning around to some of the sites that have been sheltering displaced people. The group I’ve been working with, Durban Action Against Xenophobia, have some food donations and we wanted to check where they were most needed. Several police stations I called said they had nobody sheltering there any longer, but they had no idea where the people had gone (?). Then I called one of the Zimbabwean refugees who had been at a police station in Inanda. He said that they had all been chased away from the police station and were ‘hiding’ (his word, used repeatedly) in various places. He also said that he personally had recently been threatened again by ‘men with guns’ and was in hiding himself. Naturally, considering what’s going on there at the moment, none of these Zimbabweans are spectacularly keen to be repatriated.

Then I called a few churches. I had the same conversation about five times. It went something like this

Me: I’m just calling to find out if you still have anyone sheltering at your church, and what we might be able to do to help.

Church representative: Can you find somewhere else for these people to stay? We can’t shelter them any longer. Our facilities are not up to it and we really need the hall for the upcoming children’s camp/ holiday programme/ etc.

Me: I’m afraid we can’t help with that at the moment. Have you been in contact with Disaster Management or with Province?

CR: We’ve been visited by everyone – Disaster Management, Province, the UN. We told them all we have to get the people out this week. They haven’t done anything.

Me: How much longer can you keep the people there?

CR: They will have to go tomorrow/by Friday at the latest. We don’t know what to do, the authorities promised to help but they’re not doing anything. We can’t continue.

Five times I had this conversation. One guy said he was considering putting all the displaced people on a bus, bussing them into town and depositing them in the foyer of City Hall. I think that might just be an idea.

Where is the City? Where is Disaster Management? Where is Province? Mike Sutcliffe tells us this is all under control. It is very much not!

I haven’t been posting for the past while because I’ve been working with Durban Action Against Xenophobia to help displaced people in the Durban area. It’s been pretty busy, and something of an education. I’m currently blogging, along with other members of the team, over at the Durban Action blog. See the blog for updates of the situation in Durban and what we’re doing.