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Talking about xenophobia
05 March 2010

Tackling xenophobia: Diepsloot community members discuss solutions

Residents are coming together in Diepsloot to talk about why the xenophobic attacks took place in 2008, and to find a way forward.

A COMMUNITY Conversation in Diepsloot brought to the fore the underlying reasons for the xenophobic attacks that happened in Johannesburg and across the country in 2008.

Somali Association of South Africa representative Bea Abrahams
Somali Association of South Africa representative Abdul Hassam 

Organised by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Community Conversation took place on Thursday, 25 February at a community centre in Diepsloot, Extension One. People from various organisations attended, including officials from the Migrants’ Helpdesk of the City’s human development unit, the Human Rights Commission, the Somali Association of South Africa and community members.

The main reasons for organising this programme were to identify and address the underlying causes of anger and frustration in communities affected by the recent incidents of violence against non-nationals, through facilitated Community Conversations in order to advance improved relations between host and migrant communities, explained its implementing partner, Bea Abrahams.

“The programme works in partnership with local non-profit and community-based organisations and is presently being implemented in Gauteng, Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.”

Mmatli Senyane, the Region A co-ordinator of the Migrants’ Helpdesk, said: “We as the City feel that these types of conversations are helping us to find the underlying causes and dealing with them head on … This will also prevent xenophobic attacks from happening [again].”

 Those taking part in the Community Conversation were divided into five small groups in which they discussed specific questions and the lack of proper leadership: What where the true causes of the xenophobic attacks in 2008? When was Diepsloot established?

The groups were given an hour to talk. Speaking through a translator, members of the Somalian community living and working in Diepsloot thanked the Nelson Mandela Foundation for organising an event that sought to integrate the community.

Diepsloot, a sprawling township characterised by over-crowding
Diepsloot, a sprawling township characterised by over-crowding

They, however, had grievances, including being charged too much for renting business space, constant robberies and breaking into their shops. Because of their good business acumen, Somali shopowners said local business people accused them of taking business away from them, leading to confrontations.

To help alleviate animosity between Somali and local businesses, Somali shopowners said they were willing to teach locals how to run gainful businesses.

The meeting heard that attacks on shops owned by foreigners in 2009 were a result of frustration by Diepsloot residents over issues of service delivery in the area. A Diepsloot community identified several issues that led to protests, including overcrowding and high unemployment rates.

This Community Conversation was the first to be held in Diepsloot. It will be followed by another meeting on 15 March, where solutions and a way forward will be sought for those concerns that were raised.

Diepsloot was established in 1995 and is a sprawling, densely populated settlement made up of formal and informal settlements. The formal townships comprise about 7 139 households. However, it is in the informal settlements and the reception area where the largest number of people live.

The helpdesk aims to ensure that migrants feel they are part of an inclusive city. Its objectives are:

  • To develop a service frontline that provides migrants with relevant information on available services;
  • To develop and conduct anti-xenophobia awareness campaigns with City staff as well as local communities;
  • To establish and maintain partnerships with migrant organisations to identify concerns and address service gaps; and
  • To liaise with and lobby provincial government departments on issues relating to migrants.

The helpdesk assists in matters such as asylum seeking processes and determination of refugee status; accommodation and employment; material assistance and requests for basic needs, including food and clothing; immigration procedures (various permits and visas); foreign consulate and embassy details; and references and letters of motivation and verifications to prospective employers.

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