Calling them internment camps clarified what they nearly became

Rastafarian waving a flag in protest against xenophobia, at a vigil outside Parliament, on May 23. No politicians attended the vigil. Rastas have been brutally assaulted when standing up against xenophobic mobs.

The use of the term “internment camps” for the City of Cape Town refugee camps, by the Treatment Action Campaign, has become somewhat controversial. This is my view, posted as a comment elsewhere. I omitted to mention the sheer terror with which many refugees, victims of state violence elsewhere on the continent, respond to official action :

[“Internment camps” is] a very emotive term — but the city was at one stage undoubtedly heading towards creating places that would have been internment camps in all but name.

I have absolutely no doubt about this, because I heard discussions amongst city officials myself, in person, with my own ears, showing that they were at times considering lockdowns on the camps and sites, for ‘security reasons’, and that they thought they might end up forcibly removing people from certain locations. At least one of the sites was in fact locked down over Sunday night. What’s more, the city wanted to remove people from all the smaller refuges and concentrate them in the camps.

God alone knows what might have happened if people had been handed into the power of our unspeakably corrupt and brutal Home Affairs department for “processing”. There is no doubt in my mind at all that this is what would have happened if this emergency had been left to the authorities, and not headed off by the huge civil society response.

TAC used inflammatory language, sure, in this statement. But if it helped clarify the issues, clarified where we might have headed, then it was absolutely warranted, even if it now looks a bit excessive.

As for the politics surrounding the authorities’ handling of the response — well, you have to have your head stuck in the sand not to know that both the ANC and DA have long been at loggerheads in this province. That they could not set aside their differences long enough to deal properly with a humanitarian emergency shows neither really has the interests of ordinary people at heart. I have, at different times, and in different contexts, admired both Zille and Rasool — but no longer.

It’s a cheap shot to level a charge of politicking against TAC. I quite often feel uncomfortable with the militancy of TAC myself — on the other hand, I do not see ANY less militant organisations fighting as hard or as successfully for the human rights of ordinary South Africans. In this country, unless you are militant, or if you show signs of weakness, you are all too often brutally trampled. As has been amply demonstrated in the last week.

David Le Page, currently TAC volunteer

About David

I am an environmental writer, journalist and speaker living in Cape Town, South Africa.
This entry was posted in Human rights, Xenophobia in Cape Town. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Calling them internment camps clarified what they nearly became

  1. Eric says:

    Hi David – xenophobic attacks have also occurred in Plett, Knysna, Sedgefield, George and Mossel Bay. Currently there are about 1000 people taking refuge in the Knysna Town Hall and several church halls. About two days ago there was a gang of youths armed with razor blades that were slashing the faces of anyone suspected to be a foreign African. Several people from Limpopo province (Venda and Shangaan speakers) have also been assaulted and robbed.

  2. Pingback: ●Cape Town: Refugee internment camps? - Journalist, David Le Page explains what’s been going on « SGI-SA CHANTING FOR PEACE

  3. Eric says:

    A local purveyor of xenophobia has deposited a turd on the internet. See

  4. hoh says:

    bloddy hell you write so well
    it’s always such a treat to read yr articles
    you notch up my understanding of the issues by 98%!
    just makes it easier to deal with what’s going on
    now is what the bleep can i do to help change the underlying causes!
    any ideas?
    what’s the latest on refugees/displaced people pls?
    were do you recommend one goes to get it
    TAC too busy to keep their blog up to date

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