Cape Times, 26 May 2008

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AID organisations, church groups and the government have sought to provide relief for the almost 20 000 people thought to have been displaced by violence against African expatriates in Cape Town, with the Simon's Town naval base being opened late last night to accommodate 600 people. No deaths were reported, while the SA Police Service and Metro Police were maintaining a strong presence at several places where tensions were high. The provincial government said it had deployed all police personnel, extended their working hours, called up reservists and Bambanani volunteers, and assigned 15 medical teams to provide as much help as possible to people displaced by the violence. After four days of looting, burning of shacks and widespread intimidation and violence across the city, Mayor Helen Zille called on the UN and the international community to help solve a "much larger-scale problem than we anticipated". Premier Ebrahim Rasool told a group of displaced African expatriates given accommodation at a Soetwater holiday camp that a representative from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would meet them to discuss their plight. The group had demanded to see the representative, accusing Rasool and his government of not having done enough to avert the attacks. They said the attacks appeared well planned as they had been discussed in taxis and at some taxi ranks. "Xenophobia was progressing from other parts of the country," Mwamba Kazadi, a representative of the Congolese staying at the camp, told Rasool. "You did not do anything to stop it from happening here. We do not want to talk to your government. We want to talk to the UNHCR." Rasool said he would not allow them to return to the communities unless it was safe to do so. In a joint statement, churches of different denominations called on President Thabo Mbeki to "rapidly increase the pace of service delivery" to stem the poor's frustration, which they said had led to the backlash against expatriates. Zille warned of "a growing backlash by South African citizens", with "serious tension" between communities and people accommodated in safe centres and temporary shelters, such as the Summer Greens hall near Milnerton. Many refugees have refused to move to the city's six "safe sites". More than 8 000 have sought shelter at the sites, set up by the city with welfare agencies, and provided with law enforcement, ablution facilities and food relief. Just over 1 000 people have been taken in by churches and mosques. Others spent the weekend in community halls, sports facilities and churches. Almost 500 people have spent the past three nights camping on the street outside the Cape Town Central police station. Zille urged displaced people to move to the safe sites so they could be registered and reintegrated into communities or advised how they could return home. Also, the situation would be easier to manage than if people were dispersed across the city. "Some people are refusing to move and inciting others." Zille said the city was seeking legal advice and would consider "other options" if people refused to move from temporary facilities. Tension was especially high in Summer Greens, where hundreds of people refused to move to a safer site. They also became angry when they realised the use-by dates of some vacuum-packed meats offered to them had expired, and began throwing the "poisonous" food around. "Look what they've given us - it's old food," they shouted, throwing crates of sandwiches off tables. Zille was called in and found the floor strewn with meat and bread. "I'm very sorry for what has happened," she told the crowd. "This is an emergency shelter and you must understand that that's fair. I have Silverstream (near Milnerton) ready for you. The buses are here. Please take the buses and go to Silverstream. "We are protecting you. I'm sorry (the food) has passed its sell-by date. It didn't come from the municipality. It must have come from another source," Zille shouted, struggling to be heard over the noisy crowd. More police officers had to be called to keep the surging crowd from pushing into Zille. As she walked out under heavy police guard, the foreigners shouted: "Let her go. She didn't bring us solutions." A number of them waved packs of the expired meat in front of Zille as she made her way out. A number of times, Zille stopped to speak to the shouting foreigners, most of them from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They said they wanted to return to the informal settlements they had come from, but were afraid to go back. They did not want to go to Silverstream. "My four children go to school near here and I work here," said one, Maskinni Assumani. "We can't just go to that Silverstream place." Another, Pascal Lonatio, shouted: "We won't leave here. They can rather kill us here ... we won't leave." A number of police vans and officers monitored the hall throughout the night. They said they would try to get the refugees on the bus for Silverstream today. Zille asked Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota to open the naval base and military bases to provide more safe sites. By late yesterday afternoon, the Youngsfield Military Base in Ottery was filled to capacity with 700 people. In Du Noon, people walked past shops that had been looted and stepped over goods stripped from shelves and scattered in the streets. Communities across the city rallied to help deal with the crisis. In Khayelitisha, a crisis management committee of councillors, community representatives and South African National Civic Organisation members was set up. Councillor Masizole Mnqasela (DA) said there were about 2 700 displaced people in Khayelitsha, with 720 being accommodated in the Desmond Tutu Hall, 550 in the Mahlangu Hall, 650 in the Site B Hall and about 100 in the Resource Centre. Crisis committee member Bonginkosi Madikizela said there had been no serious attacks in Khayelitsha, only opportunistic crimes. There was no quick-fix solution. "We need to look at a long-term border control strategy." At an emergency press conference, called by the Consultation of Christian Churches Church Leaders' Action Group in Cape Town yesterday afternoon, Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba read the joint statement in English and pastor AJ Jantjies the Afrikaans version. The church leaders said they were "appalled at the violence" and "shamed by the despicable treatment of men, women and children, and theft and vandalising of property". "The tragic situation serves as a timely and ominous warning of the growing frustration of the poor." The church leaders offered to mediate between "estranged communities", and appealed to all people not to initiate or react to violence.