This was written on the night of Sunday 26. By Monday midday, fortunately, it seemed sense had prevailed, in good part due to strong pressure from the likes of TAC, and the authorities had retreated from insisting that all refugees be concentrated in a few large camps.
I’m sitting in the Cape Town Disaster Risk Management Centre, around a square of desks, cables, microphones and cables. It’s 2am, and half the eight people in the room are asleep. They’re not being neglectful – out on the flats and in the townships, the violence has, for tonight at any rate, subsided. No more bullets fly in Du Noon, that we know of. (“Who’s shooting?” “If there were names on the bullets, we’d know.”)
In front of me is the carefully tabulated Treatment Action Campaign/Aids Law Project/MSF assessment of the refugee situation: “Displaced persons, Sunday 25 May: 8969”.
Phrases: “entirely lacking in all supplies”, “incidents of intimidation at hospital”, “desperately need more ablution blocks”, “seems to be well-kept and under control”, “military providing protection”, “crowd unsettled, concerned for lack of safety; lack of drinking water”.
Over 650 people are in the Gant’s warehouse in Somerset West, 500 in the Desmond Tutu hall, 1320 in the Kraaifontein Youth Centre.
I’ve always been curious about the ways in which social evil is created, how it’s created almost inadvertently by organisations of mostly well-intentioned and individually moral people.
The social evil lurching towards us is the creation of what effectively will be internment camps filled with scared and angry people suffering from dislocation and exploitation.
How will it happen? City managers, finding that they’re unable to effectively provide services to a multitude of sites, are deciding that refugees must be consolidated in a few particular sites. The mayor, Helen Zille, is pushing hard for that. After all, it’s just logical. And, apparently, there are lots of weddings scheduled for these halls, and they just can’t easily be rescheduled to accommodate frightened and desperate people.
But displaced people, in scattered community halls and sites around the Peninsula, are resisting being pushed into the camps. They don’t want to move. They’ve been uprooted once already. They trust the refuges they’ve found for themselves, refuges working on a fairly human scale. They don’t trust the authorities, they don’t trust the servants of a government which runs the massively abusive Department of Home Affairs, which has created so much suffering for so many of them (as it does for South Africans, as well).
Managing a camp filled with hundreds of people is a massive task. Problems emerge like hydras. The people managing some of the site housing refugees often don’t have the skills for the tasks. In some instances, we hear, they’re only cleaners.
In the DRMC, the words “drugs” and “alcohol” are heard quite often. The problems of managing criminal or simply unruly people quickly loom larger in the minds of city managers than the needs of quieter people. Faced with the problem of keeping alcohol out and order in, the authorities are starting to lock at least one of the camps at certain times.
A lock-up may temporarily alleviate one problem, but it’s likely to make people feel like prisoners. Which will create many more problems. Again, a completely logical decision which when applied to a complex human system may wreak havoc.
These logical decisions, taken in good faith, could end up creating much suffering.
As for solutions, they certain start with ensuring that basic needs are met.
But they must continue with really encouraging refugees to create committees and structures, that allow them to start managing the resources that are going to them. And then to start managing, with the authorities, and with the assistance of mediators where necessary, the processes of either relocation or reintegration.
Those are the temporary, bandaid solutions. The deeper solutions lie in gearing up for greater social justice for all citizens. At present, there’s no sign that our country, as a whole, yet sees the need for that. The middle classes and the wealthy stand firmly in the way without even realising that they do.
Further impressions from the DRMC
More people coming to Summer Greens. They put in 20 security guards – but the security guards ran away. Private security. Summer Greens has been a hotspot. Refugees have been aggressive, non-cooperative. No-one is keeping a record of people coming in and out, nowhere. Allegation that people are moving in and out with drugs and alcohol. Metro and SAPS trying to stabilise.
Harmony Park. They’ve locked the gates. “There’s enough alcohol and drugs inside there to keep them busy for the night.”
Reported shooting and stoning of refugees and Metro police by community, in Belville South.
Du Noon – they’re burning shacks in Site 5. 30 people trapped. They organise transport to Silverstroom.
If people at the Bothasig Community Hall refuse to move, “they must be moved”. “I’m quite sure the word ‘force’ has been removed there.”
Man set alight in Makabeni Road, Khayelitsha. SAPS, Metro, EMS in attendance. “He’s okay”
They’re planning to move people out of Khayelitsha. People cannot move around freely. Khayelitsha is the worst area tonight.
Police coming under fire in Du Noon. “Who is shooting?” “If there was a name on the bullet, we would know.”
“We were not able to deliver on the mandate from the mayor”, to move people from the community halls to the centres.
“The reply from the mayor was that we must just transport those who wish to be transported. And in respect of others, she will give us direction tomorrow. We have managed to transport some few.”
“If people don’t want to move tomorrow, we will have to divert transport resources to move those at police stations, mosques and community centres.”
Someone repeats the notorious recent statement of the deputy minister of safety and security, Susan Shabangu, that police should just “shoot the bastards”.
“Soetwater [refugee site] is too full.”