South Africa winds up relief camp for foreign nationals

Municipal officials say move to shut down Johannesburg shelter made on basis of safety assurances from local leaders.

    On Saturday at least 120 foreign nationals returned to the marathon informal settlement where some of the violence took place [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]
    On Saturday at least 120 foreign nationals returned to the marathon informal settlement where some of the violence took place [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]

    Johannesburg, South Africa  - Government-operated temporary shelters for foreign nationals displaced by xenophobic violence in Johannesburg have now been closed, officials have told Al Jazeera.

    Zweli Dlamini, a spokesperson for the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality, said late on Saturday that local leaders in affected communities had assured authorities that foreign nationals would be secure after a series of meetings between government, police officers and community leaders.

    Personally, I think its just an attempt to come up with a temporary solution for an almost permanent problem

    Bonnie Chimanikire, activist

    "We only moved them when we were given assurance that their safety is guaranteed," Dlamini said.

    "We started the reintegration process on Thursday and we only had about 128 people left in the camp after that, which we then cleared this morning."

    At least eight people were killed in a wave of xenophobic violence that erupted on March 30 in Durban, the capital of eastern KwaZulu-Natal province.

    The violence displaced thousands in the port city before spreading to areas in and around country's commercial hub, Johannesburg.

    Johannesburg's Primrose camp, which opened on April 16, initially sheltered 400 to 500 people. Later almost 1,000 foreign nationals took refuge here.

    Tension dissipated

    In next-door Cleveland, a few hundred more people found respite in a community hall.

    In the suburb of Mayfair in Johannesburg, Gift of the Givers, a nongovernmental organisation, is still running a camp that hosts more than 130 displaced people.

    While tensions have largely dissipated in Johannesburg, an official at the Gift of the Givers camp said the number of displaced had doubled in the past three days.

    Sam Bila, a 32-year-old Mozambican national living at the camp, said he was ready to return to Primrose. He said he lost his life savings of $700 when his house was looted during the violence.

    "I haven't earned anything in days and I have to look after my family, so it is time to return," he said.

    Earlier on Saturday, there was some confusion at the Primrose camp when the station commander of the town's police station told activists he had not been informed of the camp's closure.

    Activists are concerned the issue has only been temporarily solved and fear further flare-ups [Azad Esaa/Al Jazeera]

    Activists said it was a matter of concern that the police were unaware of the details of the reintegration processes despite the camp being directly opposite the local police station.

    "Personally, I think its just an attempt to come up with a temporary solution for an almost permanent problem," said Bonnie Chimanikire, 29, who has been helping to provide food and clothing for victims for the past week at the camp.

    Chimanikire also said that she was concerned that the camps were being closed as part of a public-relations exercise by the government to project "a return to normality" in advance of Freedom Day on April 27.

    But Dlamini, the Ekurhuleni Municipality spokesperson, said there was no pressure to close the camps ahead of April 27.

    "Remember we do not want to force the people back into those communities when they are not ready because that is actually very dangerous," she said.

    In the first wave of reintegration involving inmates of the Primrose camp, the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality provided families with food and sanitation hampers on Thursday before transporting them to the areas affected by violence.

    Up to 5,000 people remain in camps in Durban, where the violence initially began on March 30.

    Many hundreds like Sam Bila have not earned an income in weeks [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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