Sunday Tribune, 13 July 2008

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Ethekwini Municipality has shown foreigners the door, saying there was no money or place to accommodate them after the countrywide xenophobic attacks that left them displaced. The foreign national's leaders, in turn, accuse the municipality of xenophobia. On Friday night more than 170 foreigners, mainly women and children, were forced into police vans and dumped in Albert Park after they staged a sit-in at Durban City Hall. Metro Police and security guards arrested them and dropped them at the park to fend for themselves. The foreign nationals had not been reintegrated into the communities from which they fled during the attacks. Some of the women were injured during the scuffle with the police. Salome Kakozi, who is six months' pregnant, was one of them. "The police punched and kicked me as they forced us into a police vehicle," she said. She was taken to King Edward Hospital. Yesterday, a Muslim group offered the refugees a tent, which was erected in the park. Pierre Matate, of the KwaZulu-Natal Refugees Committee, said the foreigners had been sitting outside the city hall since Thursday. "The aim of the sit-in was to alert city officials to the refugees' plight so they would take action to address the situation," he said. Matate said the protesters were part of a group of 300 who had been displaced and now had nowhere to go. Many had been living in churches for the past two months. Another group that had been living in Glenwood Methodist Church was told to pack and go early this week. "The church told them it had no more resources to take care of them and they had to seek the government's assistance," Matate said. "In a meeting two months ago city officials and three KwaZulu-Natal MECs agreed to help accommodate displaced foreigners. But since then the three spheres of government have been washing their hands of us and pointing fingers at each other as responsible to deal with this issue," he said. "It shows you how the officials of this country treats us foreigners." The foreign protesters at the city hall were joined by a group of women called Durban Action Against Xenophobia, which confronted City Manager Michael Sutcliffe as he tried to drive away from the city hall parking lot. One of the women, Marike du Toit, said they felt compelled to confront Sutcliffe because the city was not doing anything to help. "We told him this was an urgent situation and we felt the city had to address it immediately," she said. "He told us the city has done what it could and had no budget. He asked me if I was a ratepayer and how would I feel if the money I pay was used to help those people without any budgeting. I told him I wouldn't mind," said Du Toit, adding they were later removed from the parking lot by municipal security officers. Sutcliffe was not available yesterday for comment. However, the city's head of disaster management, Lungisa Manzi, said eThekwini had spent more than R2 million helping displaced foreigners. He condemned the conduct of the foreigners who staged the sit-in and their supporters. "The municipality does not have the mandate or the resources to sustain the requirements of those foreign nationals who have decided not to return home or to go back to the housing they occupied before May 22, 2008," Manzi said, adding that caring for displaced foreigners was the responsibility of the provincial and national government. "We must condemn the actions of a small group of foreign nationals who attacked our officials at the city hall. Their protest and actions were illegal and they provoked our officials, spat, scratched and bit them," Manzi said.