Friday, July 4, 2008


We are sometimes called the Rainbow Nation here. Desmond Tutu coined the term to describe South Africa in post-apartheid times. And many writers, artists, politicians try to give hopeful encouraging pictures of South Africa. I do believe them. Still in the face of my hope is the fact that many social statistics surprisingly (to me) became worse since the end of apartheid (crime, rape, etc.).

And on top of having cities with one of the highest crime rates, murder rates, rape rates, carjacking rates (in our history), we are subject to worldwide phenomena: rising food prices, rising oil prices, high inflation. The value of the rand is falling faster (or has been falling faster) than the dollar. So we do not reap any benefits of an improved exchange rate from our side. With AIDS incidence at 12% of the adult population and unemployment at around 40%, times are hard. And the fact of the matter is that society is segmented here: some live like they are in Europe or the US; others live like paupers in horrible squatter camps or informal settlements. To this day, I still have not viewed one of those nonchalantly.

Well, xenophobia has always been an issue here for Black South Africans who blame Black African foreigners for taking their jobs (blaming for unemployment) and for a high crime rate. It actually is nothing new. South Africa is the place to be on the continent and it has people from the entire continent. It has asylum seekers and refugees, people looking for a better life and a new start.

But can you imagine when a person actually says that “though my home has muggings EVERY Day [she doesn’t go one day without at least SEEING a mugging]” I would rather be back home in Angola instead of Cape Town! That’s the situation here. Just like in Israel, US, Italy, etc. immigration is a problem here. The borders are not policed or guarded well, and many foreigners are here illegally. So it’s the same immigration so many state leaders discuss.

Though one of the South African tribes here has a negative word for Black foreigners, that’s all it has amounted to---a negative word, a bus driver refuses to speak to a Zim person in English, etc. Even if there was an incident, it was only that—a single small incident. Never did anyone imagine that on May 11, 2008 a clash would break out in which South Africans would attack foreigners, never! Never did people imagine that the clash would jump cities.

Originally in the Gauteng Province (contains Joburg), at least 42 people have died (the number increases every day) now from attacks on foreigners by South Africans. Last Friday on May 24, 2008, people feeling free in their xenophobic impulses and emboldened by the events outside Joburg (in Alexandria), started the same. Though it was supposed to be just the burning down and smashing of foreigner’s homes, at least one person has died in Cape Town.

Because of this, many refugees or foreigners living outside the main part of the city in townships have fled into Cape Town. They are being held in police stations and in some churches who opened the doors so quickly so willingly.

I was working this weekend a bit on coordinated my church and getting it mobilized. I wanted the church (thanks to a friend who called me and alerted me) to have a decision made on what it wanted to do and on how to move forward and then to actually do it.

My church decided to open up individual homes first to its own members from townships. So people signed up yesterday to host. We also made sandwiches (I missed this), and we are collecting toiletries and blankets. UCT is doing the same. Their community service student group is collecting blankets, toiletries and non-perishable items. The UCT Law school is using people and volunteers to help identify, register refugees to aid legal documentation. UCT has been provided its shuttle busses since Friday to ship people out of the townships. Cape Town has 10,000 displaced people.

It’s a bit strange to be so close. It’s strange to see your city become a refugee haven and for crisis to face you in the face. Mbeki sent troops to Joburg to quell the violence, but he didn’t speak out enough harshly rebuking fellow South Africans saying this is not how we do things. Mandela spoke out against it. And my pastor spoke quite well on Sunday letting everyone from other countries know they were welcome and loved.

So many people are worried about me, and I was called by a Congolese (DRC) friend on Friday to see if I was ok. Haley even told me not to tell people I’m Nigerian (that’s what I say). I’m doing fine. I’m not sure how big the news is over there in the US, but it’s huge here. And for it to jump cities is very big because the seeds of xenophobia had been planted much earlier.

Because this update is very long, I will stop and continue more later on why I think this is happening (somewhat underlying reason). In the meantime, you can read the article link below.

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