THE well-planned and coordinated pograms against immigrants continued yesterday and well into the night. It is clear from news reports and voices on the ground that the xenophobic attacks are are lot more sinister than one or two isolated incidents but represent a badly though-out attempt to capitalise on anti-immigrant sentiment, joblessness, poverty and rising food prices in order to hang the present administration and disrupt the coming elections before 2010.
Panic amongst immigrant communities affected by the pogroms is palpable. After the initial shock of the horrifying events in Gauteng, news that rioting and looting had spread to the Cape was greeted with dismay by activists on the ground who have been battling to assist communities with issues such as lack of housing, basic services and a food crisis that has hit the poor particularly harshly this year as winter takes its toll on health.
While some quarters are accusing the media of sensationalism and beating the fans of violence, the pictures published in various dailies brought home the stark reality of South Africa’s failure to grapple with immigration. How many times has the word “foreigner” been used to describe people whose ties with South Africa stem from well-before the 1994 democratic election?
How many so-called foreigners are parent to children born in South Africa and who have as much claim to citizenship as returned exiles?
The first calls for assistance from activists in Cape Town began arriving in my mailbox yesterday. One plea from an organiser with the Anti-Eviction Campaign warned of an impending attack in NY6 Gugulethu. I attended a vigil hastily called by the Cape Town Action Forum a loose coalition of organisations which included Cosatu, Workers Action Vanguard League, Ogoni People’s Forum, Ilrig and others. A crowd of about 500 hundred people gathered outside parliament, waving banners, singing songs and carrying candles.
After sunset, Shahied Mohammed of WIVL arrived and addressed what remained of the crowd and was about to open the microphone to organisations such as Frontline and Ogoni People’s Forum when we were all told to disperse.
After a short address by Frontline, Comrade Mo as he is known was thrown into the back of a police van and formerly arrested. There is still no clue as to his whereabouts although a message from a spokesperson for the former “Anti-War Coalition” gave information which seems to suggest that a lawyer working for PASSOP had been in communication with the police and would arrange bail.
After the arrest of Comrade Mo, we reconvened outside Caledon Square where about 100 immigrants had gathered with their possessions outside the police station. One Zambian woman told of how her house had been burnt down near NY6 and was lucky to escape with her life.
The response from aid organisations has been slow and we were told that the immigrants would simply be relocated to a camp somewhere near Table View.
The government policy and policy of the city metropole seems to be to merely assist immigrants in leaving the country.
There has been absolutely no attempt to defend community leaders and if anything can be judged by last nights events it would seem that there has been a general clamp down on civil rights including freedom of speech.
The fact that the Ogoni People’s Forum and other immigrant organisations was unable to address the crowd is evidence of the abuse of human rights and violations that continue to marr South Africa’s claim to be a nation based on fundamental freedoms.