/ 30 June 2015

Displaced face uncertain future as SA camp closes

At least eight people were killed and thousands of others displaced in a series of attacks on foreign nationals earlier this year
At least eight people were killed and thousands of others displaced in a series of attacks on foreign nationals earlier this year

The last camp in South Africa hosting displaced foreigners following a series of xenophobic attacks across the country in April, is scheduled to close on Tuesday, officials from the municipality where it is located have told Al Jazeera.

Tozi Mthethwa, Head of Communications for the eThekwini municipality, told Al Jazeera on Monday that the Chatsworth camp, which at one stage hosted more than 5,000 people displaced by the violence, would be closed after a municipality assessment found that the situation had normalised.

“After assessing the conditions and conducting extensive community dialogues through the Provincial Department of Community Safety and Liaison, the city is pleased that the situation has normalised which therefore means that the shelter should cease to operate,” Mthethwa said in a statement issued to Al Jazeera.

“African immigrants at the shelter have been offered an option of being reintegrated into the communities they once lived in, while others have requested to be repatriated to their countries of origin.”

At least eight people were killed and thousands of others displaced in a series of attacks on foreign nationals in April.

The violence started in Durban and quickly spread to areas around Johannesburg, prompting worldwide condemnation.

There are still 212 people, mostly from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, living at the camp, and they say it is too dangerous to move back to their communities around Durban, or return to their home countries.

“I feel like I am a sub-human being. My own country doesn’t want me, the South African community does not want me and this camp is being closed,” Alex Msambia (29) from Burundi, told local media.

Another refugee from Burundi, Lucia Idi Sapata (24) said: “Life is hard here in the camp but I know it will be even harder without the camp.”

A community organiser at the Manyaleni informal settlement close to the Chatsworth camp, told Al Jazeera that he did not think it wise to close the camp at this point.

“I have not heard of any xenophobia attack since the President [Jacob Zuma] spoke, but I do think the foreigners are safer in the camp,” Mzi Radebe said.

While the worst of the violence is over, there have been a number of small-scale attacks on individuals in both Durban and Johannesburg, with some foreign nationals saying they are still being intimidated in certain townships and on public transport routes.

In early June, a Somali-owned business was petrol bombed outside Durban, and a local councillor said there remained anti-foreigner sentiment in the area.

The police said they had ruled out the bombing as being related to xenophobia, even as they admitted that no suspects had been apprehended and the motive was yet to be unconfirmed.

Some South Africans accuse foreign nationals of stealing jobs and taking business away from locals.

‘State xenophobia’
The government, in what it described as a bid to address the causes of xenophobia, launched Operation Fiela in May, in which the police, defence forces and home affairs joined forces in detaining “illegal immigrations”.

By the end of the month, the government had arrested about 3 914 people across the country.

But human rights activists have described Operation Fiela as “state xenophobia,” in which foreigners were being targeted, searched and traumatised, and say that police action was only adding more fuel to the hate.

“To equate crime with undocumented people in our society is not tackling xenophobia, it is legitimising xenophobia,” veteran trade unionist Steven Faulkner told media in May.

Radebe said that many foreigners living in the informal settlement had run away to the Chatsworth camp when Operation Fiela had started out of fear of the authorities.

“Some ended up in the camp when the authorities came looking for foreigners without documents,” he said.

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