XENOPHOBIA DEATHS: ONE-THIRD WAS SOUTH AFRICAN

Mail & Guardian/Sapa, 12 June 2008

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At least 21 of the 62 people who died in the recent xenophobic violence were South African citizens, government communications head Themba Maseko said on Thursday. The inter-ministerial task team had reported to Cabinet at its meeting on Wednesday, and indicated that 62 people lost their lives during the senseless violence, he told a media briefing at Parliament. Of these, 21 were South Africans, and indications were that 11 were Mozambican, five Zimbabwean and three Somali. About 22 bodies had yet to be identified. Maseko said 53 of the 62 deaths occurred in Gauteng. The government was also considering the possibility of declaring a "national day of healing" to enable the nation to pay its respects to those who died. It would not be a public holiday and further details would be announced at a later date. Maseko also dispelled any possibility of the refugees being moved to a third country, saying the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) had excluded this. "The option of an alternative country is out of the question at this stage ... the UNHCR itself has said they will not consider that option." A substantial number of those displaced during the violence had already left South Africa to return to their countries of origin. The reintegration process of those wanting to remain in South Africa was quite advanced in the Western Cape, involving professional mediators and conflict-resolution specialists. On the future, he said the government's view was that "there will be an end state, and that end state will be the removal of the shelters" currently housing the refugees after a two-month period. The government was aware that there were a number of Somalis who were refusing reintegration and who wanted to be evacuated to Europe. "We are in consultation with the UNHCR, who have indicated that they have no plans to evacuate anybody from South Africa. "Therefore, reintegration is supported by the international agencies. "So the Somalis are going to have to be part of the process of reintegration because these shelters are not going to be a permanent feature of South African society. So they're going to have to agree to reintegration," he said. However, the process of reintegration should not be "romanticised". "It's not going to be easy. It's going to require a lot of hard work, a lot of dialogue between the [parties concerned] ... and the issue of security will be one of the major issues. "But ultimately, we believe that with enough work being put into this, and especially looking at the model implemented in the Western Cape ... we think that, in fact, an environment will be created for communities to say 'we want to welcome the foreign nationals back to our communities'." Maseko also made it clear that no compensation for the victims was being considered at this stage. Meanwhile, the Western Cape provincial government has backed down on its high court bid to force the City of Cape Town to accommodate refugees at community halls. Premier Ebrahim Rasool was on Monday night granted an interim order obliging the city to open up 18 community halls to displaced victims of xenophobia. However, legal teams for province and city appeared before acting Cape Judge President Jeanette Traverso on Thursday, where counsel for the province announced that the parties had "reached agreement" and the application was being withdrawn. Each side would pay its own costs.