COMMUNITY PRAISED FOR EMBRACING REFUGEES ON HUMAN RIGHTS DAY

AllAfrica.com/BuaNews, 22 March 2007

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Residents of Masiphumele township in southern Cape Town were praised for reconciling with the Somali traders who were once seen by some community members as a threat to their businesses. Speaking to residents of the township on Human Rights Day, Wednesday, Western Cape Premier Ebrahim Rasool delivered a key message against xenophobia and urged locals to continue to work together with the Somalis. Masiphumelele last year saw several eruptions of conflict between Somali refugees and local residents. The Western Cape Premier praised the local community for "setting a good example" to the rest of the city after they set up a forum where local business people and Somalis now interact with each other and share ideas. Addressing a crowded hall at Masiphumelele High School - including many Somalis, some of whom had travelled from elsewhere in the city - Mr Rasool said locals could learn from some of the discipline of the Somalis as they went about earning an independent livelihood through their trading stores. At the same time, said the premier, Somalis could learn lessons from South Africans in terms of a growing culture of human rights that ensures equality between all people, including across the gender divide. Locals were reminded that South African exiles were offered homes in various parts of Africa during the struggle against apartheid, and that there comes a time when such hospitality can be reciprocated. Deputy Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba told the crowd of several hundred people that "hundreds of thousands of people in Africa live outside their countries of origin, not sure if they will ever go back there or whether they want to return home." Countries of more "modest development" than South African continue to host many thousands of people displaced by repression or conflict, Mr Gigaba said. He added that South Africans needed to realise that the country can benefit from the presence of immigrants and refugees, because many of them bring skills, including some of the scarce skills needed by the South African economy. The "entrepreneurial spirit and culture" that many refugees bring can, "if properly harnessed", enhance local communities, he said, citing Masiphumelele as an example of the progress that can be achieved by strong community leadership. The township now has a joint committee, called the Siyakha Business Trust, where Somalis and locals work together, and this has seen tensions between them reduced to a point where there is considerable mutual benefit. One of the Somalis present yesterday, Musanassir Abdi, aged 28, said they were "touched" and "impressed" by the speeches made by Mr Rasool and Mr Gigaba. And one of the senior members of the staff at Masiphumelele High School said there was now "respect between us". The non-governmental organisations Africa Unite and Islamic Relief also played a role in setting up the peace initiative in the township and mediating conflict. Underscoring the new-found unity and spirit of cooperation, business skills certificates were handed out at the venue yesterday to several achievers in the township, with several Somalis included with locals on the list. In Somalia itself, reports of scores of dead and wounded continue to make headlines as the country tries to emerge from decades of conflict, being assisted in this regard by the African Union and the United Nations amongst others.