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.


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.

I don’t really know what to say. Or, I do have lots to say but a lot of it has already been said. I feel at the same time a part of this and very much outside of it. I am outside because of my whiteness. Why is it, I have to ask, that people are attacking their own neighbours and not coming into the suburbs and breaking down our gates and demanding that they get the same priveleges that whites in South Africa still enjoy? Why can I still drive my car and buy my groceries and enjoy my hot water and electricity and not fear at all that any day now a crowd of poor people will be marching down the main road of my nice little suburb? Why are poor people killing other poor people, blaming other poor people, and not pointing at the gated communities and golf estates and saying “There, there are the people who have the jobs and the money and the nice soft beds”? I’m not suggesting that people should start marching through the suburbs. I’m not suggesting that the violence should be perpetuated at all. I’m just wondering why it is that foreigners are the target of all this frustration and rage and not rich people or white people or really anyone driving past in their big SUV loaded up with groceries from Woolworths. If I come up with any clever answers to this I’ll let you know.

South Africa is exploding before our eyes. First Atteridgeville, then Alexandra and Diepsloot. Over the weekend mob violence left the Johannesburg CBD looking like a war-zone. Looking, in fact, like Kigali or Nairobi looked not so long ago. Government condemns the xenophobia, but this is not just xenophobia. Venda, Shona, Pedi, even Zulu-speaking South Africans fear for their lives in the chaos that has erupted. Meanwhile, at the Sandton Convention Centre, a conference on Local Economic Development begins today. Representatives from municipal, provincial and national government and NGOs are gathering to attend workshops by international economists on how to grow local economies through encouraging export growth. Is there something wrong here? You bet. Police were strangely absent in Pretoria this morning as SAFM’s reporter watched people fleeing oncoming mobs carrying sticks and throwing stones. Perhaps they had all been deployed to Sandton to protect the conference delegates.

At the beginning of last week there was a suggestion that the attacks in Alex had been deliberately incited by a ‘third force’. This notion was quickly (and rightly) dismissed by Justice Minister Bridget Mbandla. Her reasoning was that if this was some sort of attempt at undermining stability in the country, we would have seen attacks of this nature everywhere, and not only in Alex. Well, they’re not caused by third force activity and they’re not on the scale of what we saw in Alex, Atteridgeville and Diepsloot recently, but every day there are countless examples of xenophobia countrywide. There was the supermarket cashier who I witnessed loudly and rudely berating a customer because he asked for cigarettes in an African language she didn’t understand – oddly I could hear perfectly well what he was asking for since ’30 Peter Stuyvesant’ sounds pretty much the same no matter what your accent. When I took her to task for being so rude to a customer she was unabashed – he was foreign and she didn’t want to serve him and that was that. Then there are the countless times Zimbabwean colleagues have been refused entry to a taxi because they couldn’t speak local languages, or the times comments have been openly made that they should ‘go home’ because they aren’t wanted here.

Dr Emmanuel Nyakarashi of the Refugee Ministries Centre was quoted in a recent Cape Argus article, saying “This is not a new phenomenon – it’s been happening for some time. But it has never been given the due attention it deserves.” He went on to say that our government has failed to properly educate South Africans about foreigners seeking refuge in our country, and South Africa’s duty towards them. He’s absolutely right, but this is not the only failure of our government.

In his ‘Monday Morning Matters’ column in The Times of May 19, Justice Malala identified the many failures of our government over the past ten years which have led us here. Not least among these is the failure to deal with the situation in Zimbabwe decisively at any point. A country in chaos just across the border is surely a recipe for disaster at home. Even without this catalyst, though, South Africa has been falling apart at the seams – energy crises, rising food prices, government corruption, rampant crime, a failing job market, and that’s just the beginning. The poor of our country are becoming increasingly desperate, and they are looking for someone to blame. How long will it be before they realise that the people they are looking for are not their neighbours in the squatter camps and townships, but the fat cats sitting snugly behind their high walls in Houghton and Sandton?

Just as Mbeki and others have maintained we should support Robert Mugabe, no matter what he does, because his government once provided refuge to our own exiles during apartheid, the people of South Africa don’t want to accuse ‘struggle heroes’ of selling out their own people, of kowtowing to Northern countries’ interests, of lining their own pockets. Just as Mugabe clearly no longer represents the people of Zimbabwe but only his own interests, many of South Africa’s leaders seem to have lost touch with the people they were elected to represent. So, early on, politicians were quick to blame a ‘third force’ or a ‘criminal element’ for what was happening in Alexandra. Now, it is clear, they can’t escape the xenophobia tag, but they will cling to that to avoid the big question of why our people turning on their neighbours and their fellow citizens; the answer to that has been clear all along.

Mbeki’s government has been accused of selling the people of South Africa out to foreign interests, accepting many of the structural adjustment policies of the World Bank and IMF that all over Africa have led to increased poverty, inequality and, ultimately, rioting and mass protest. The conference opening in Sandton today hosts yet another round of ‘expert advisors’ on international economic development. What we need is not international development; it is South African and African development. Mbeki talks of an African Renaissance, but his leadership is sending us into a dark age. Mbeki’s Pan-Africanism has failed perhaps precisely because, for all his talk of brotherhood, he seems to have forgotten about his brothers and sisters at home.