Cape Argus, 30 August 2008
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Harmony prevails in Harmony Park. This was the welcome that greeted refugees being moved from Summer Greens community hall in Milnerton at their new home in Strand. "Thank you for joining Harmony Park. Harmony is still prevailing in Harmony Park," the friendly voice boomed through a sound system. Many of those clutching what remained of their possessions following xenophobic attacks in May had never ventured as far as the Helderberg basin. "I am in another country," exclaimed Willy Tchitembo, who earlier had held a cigarette in one hand and a copy of The Easy Way to Stop Smoking in the other as he watched trucks being loaded with mattresses, bags and suitcases, televisions, a microwave, a satellite dish, lamps and other remnants of the lives his fellow Summer Greens residents had built. "It's a 100% difference," he said about the change from the community hall which he had shared with about 120 others, to the tented camp, which already seemed to be teeming with hundreds of strangers strolling aimlessly between the smaller, brightly striped family tents, and the enormous, white communal tents. Asked what he thought of the camp, one of the new residents, who hours earlier had rattled off comments to the Weekend Argus at Summer Greens, could only mumble "nothing", before walking away. The sprawling tent city, which has been erected in a holiday park bordered by the mountains and the ocean, will house a significant portion of the 3 200 people who remain displaced three months after the violence that made them flee their communities. Many of them had been living at various locations across the Peninsula but on Thursday the provincial government started its relocation programme to have all displaced people "consolidated" in three sites - Harmony Park, Blue Waters and Youngsfield military base. Thus far the moves have been peaceful, despite earlier assertions that people would resist. Instead, the overriding emotion of those getting on the buses in Milnerton and getting off in Strand, appeared to be surrender. Hope for the future, if it existed, was not expressed. "What can we do?" was often asked. Jenny Munga of the Congo smiled as she held her four children's pink South African identity cards, but her pain was clear. The children, aged 14, 12, nine and six, live with a friend of her husband's in Observatory, where they go to school. But the parents live in a tent by the ocean, and can scarcely afford the taxi and train fares they have to fork out to visit the children. The family originally sheltered at the Salt River Mosque, but Munga has been at Harmony Park - away from her children - for two months. She lives in one of the "family tents". Neat inside and out, one resident joked that they each had their own "apartment" inside the tents. The communal tents are a different story. According to one camp official, single men and women stay together in the vast tents by choice - which was confirmed by camp residents. Music blares from various sound systems from within one of the tents, creating a carnival-like atmosphere. But the new residents, fresh from their more upmarket lodgings in Milnerton, seem nervous in their new environment, and concerned about safety and health issues, and access to schools and work. "From bad to worse, that is the procedure always," said Nigel Peter of Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, displaced people at the Soetwater safety camp were up in arms yesterday after three buses arrived for a move that was only scheduled for today. The buses were turned away by camp management, "but not before their appearance had caused panic among a section of residents who had not yet packed", leaders from the camp said in a press release.