Business Day, 15 May 2008

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Three days after the xenophobic attacks on Alexandra residents, victims were still living in limbo yesterday, with the situation unlikely to improve soon. Hundreds of people who were evicted from their homes for being “immigrants” have found a temporary refugee at the local police station. Memory Mpofu, 28, a Zimbabwean, with her sister Precious and her two children, spent last night sleeping in the veld near where she used to live. A group of men she described as “Zulu”, armed with an assortment of weapons, broke open the door of their shack and threatened to kill them. She said the group claimed the shack belonged to them and they “must leave without taking anything out of it”. She did as they demanded. “I would like to appeal to the government to immediately provide shelter because winter is approaching,” she said. Another victim, Eric Kovane, 35, a Mozambican, wants to go back home to his country, saying he would rather die there than in a foreign country. “I was attacked with my wife and my two kids by a group of men. They took our house and our possessions. My concern is that I no longer go to work.” Kovane worked as a builder at a construction company. He said his seven-month-old child no longer has milk to drink and that the food provided by the Red Cross was insufficient to feed all the refugees. His family went without breakfast yesterday. Kovane said he did not have enough money to take his family back to Mozambique. “I have reported my dilemma to social workers who have been providing us with trauma counselling.” Red Cross spokeswoman Freedom Ngubeni said the Red Cross was continuing to locate and assess victims who were admitted to hospital. She said they had 370 people on their feeding scheme at present. The organisation appealed yesterday on radio for people to donate whatever they could to help the homeless Alexandra residents, and the response was “overwhelming.” One Johannesburg resident, Sally Chapman of Melrose, was singled out by Ngubeni for generosity. Chapman donated food, clothes and shoes for the victims. Gauteng community safety MEC Firoz Cachalia said yesterday there was a “humanitarian situation” in Alexandra that needed immediate attention. “There is fear and insecurity among the people of Alexandra because the violence was so indiscriminate. The people killed were not just foreign, two were South African. South African families have also been displaced.” He said to suggest that the violence was prompted solely by xenophobia was short sighted. “There was definitely a criminal element involved who took advantage of the situation. While the situation has been driven by concerns about a lack of housing, it has also been driven by false information.” Cachalia said meetings were being held with communities to clear up misconceptions, particularly regarding the allocation of housing. “Reckless statements have been made by some people, but community organisations and political parties are rallying to deal with the problems and help resolve them,” he said.