BuaNews, 15 May 2008

PLEASE NOTE: Readers wishing to reproduce and reference this article
should contact the editors of the BuaNews for permission

The City of Johannesburg has condemned the xenophobic violence that has wracked the Alexandra Township this week. "The City of Johannesburg condemns and disassociates itself from the attacks on foreign nationals that took place in Alexandra, north of Johannesburg on Tuesday. "We call on communities to act in a responsible manner and remain calm," said Gabu Tugwana, the director of communication for the city, on Wednesday. He explained that Johannesburg had a long history of "peaceful co-existence" between South African and migrants. "Ours has been and will continue to be an inclusive city." Research shows that migrants are often the victims of crime and harassment, according to the city's official website. The South African Police Service said on Wednesday morning that four deaths and four rapes had been reported in the township, with more than 100 having been treated for injuries at the Alexandra University Clinic. Neria Malefetse, the station communication officer at Alexandra, said that more than 300 people had camped out at the station over the past three days. She added that efforts were being made to get more police officers into Alexandra "to bring the situation under control". "[It] is very tense in Alexandra at the moment." Vincent Moaga, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Commission, said the commission was concerned about the ethnic character of the recent violence. The commission "is concerned about the peculiar from of xenophobia seen in the country in recent times, whereby some poor black people attack some other poor black people of different nationality, including South Africans of different ethnicity". There was "indeed a very clear and strong link between xenophobic-related attacks, ethnicity, crime and poverty", he explained. The violence in Alexandra was also related to a scarcity of resources, a result of service delivery delays. Some migrants have lived in the township for up to 18 years, having married South Africans and settled in Alexandra, he said. The city has shown its commitment to helping migrants by opening a Migrant Helpdesk back in November 2006. The Migrant Helpdesk was set up to provide migrants with information on housing, education, healthcare, and non-governmental organisations. Access to services relies on migrants having documentation verifying their status as legal migrants and asylum seekers. The city has partnerships with organisations that provide shelter and supports the Refugee Children's Project, Jesuit Refugee Without Voice, Bienvenue Shelter, Lawyers for Human Rights, South African Migration Project, United Nations High Commission for Refugees, University of the Witwatersrand's law faculty (refugee desk) and Black Sash. It should not be seen as an immigration facility, but rather as a facility to assist migrants with avenues to help themselves. It helps with access to services and information about economic and social opportunities. "We know that migration and urbanisation cannot be wished away or halted. The only viable option is to manage it," Mr Tugwana added. "The City of Johannesburg is adopting a progressive approach with regards to ensuring that migrants to this city feel that they are part of an inclusive city," Executive Mayor Amos Masondo said at the official opening of the centre in April 2007. He stressed that migrants would be dealt with in a humane and decent manner when they sought assistance.