Thursday, May 29, 2008

Slideshow: Soetwater 'refugee camp' ( posted an online slideshow (with audio commentary) on their website today. It features Soetwater 'refugee camp', a tent compound set up on Kommetjie's Soetwater Recreation Area (Cape Peninsula / Greater Cape Town). The camp currently houses 3000 refugees with more arriving. Most of the services at the camp are currently being provided by volunteers, with donations from the public being the main source of supplies. This may change as reports suggest Government may be gearing up to establish official refugee camps.

Click on the image to view the slideshow on's website.

Govt prepares for 14 camps: South Africa: Xenophobia: News24, an online news portal in the Naspers group of companies, posted the article below an hour ago (produced by Beeld). To read it in its original context, click on the article heading below.

This is a first for South Africa and has been called for by various groups since well before the current wave of xenophobia. In my opinion this is a major development, if it is confirmed officially off-course. I'll comment on it lower down...

Govt prepares for 14 camps
29/05/2008 08:24 - (SA)

Staff Reporters, Beeld

Cape Town - The government was to announce on Thursday that camps would be set up countrywide for the victims of xenophobic attacks.

However, the camps would not be referred to as refugee camps because of the negative connotations of such a name worldwide.

From what Beeld was able to gather, the Cabinet met until about 17:00 on Wednesday to discuss the proposed camps, among other things.

This came after a meeting on Monday between President Thabo Mbeki, the Cabinet committee which was established to deal with the matter, and provincial premiers.

Mbeki was to meet UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres in Japan on Thursday where the crisis would be discussed.

Exact details of the plan could not be confirmed officially on Wednesday, but Beeld was able to determine the following:

  • "Shelter camps" (perhaps with a more-acceptable name) would be announced which temporarily would provide foreigners with shelter and food in the interests of their safety, health and sanitation;
  • There would be up to 14 of these camps countrywide - seven large and seven small ones;
  • Foreigners would stay in the camps "for as long as necessary" - no timeframe was given;
  • It looked as if metro councils would be approached by provinces to cordon off areas for the camps.
  • Metro councils in Gauteng and the Western Cape - where the xenophobic attacks were the most widespread - would get camps, but not the metro councils in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal;
  • The number of foreigners in the country was estimated at about 51 000 on Wednesday night, of which about 28 000 were in Gauteng and 20 000 in the Western Cape; (((I assume this refers to the number of people displaced by the xenophobic violence as there are obviously many more foreigners in the country!)))
  • It seemed as if the national government was not in favour of the UN openly helping because it considered the country to be in a position to resolve the matter itself;
  • The Ekurhuleni metro would erect tented camps on the outskirts of Springs and Germiston, and possibly in the Kempton Park area too; and
  • The greater Johannesburg city council already was working on plans for camps, together with the national and provincial government.

    At the time of going to press no comment could be obtained from the Tshwane metro council in Pretoria.

  • Years ago, as a student journalist, I was part of a church drama group that went to sing for FW & Marike de Klerk... :-). At the time he was still the president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela had been released from prison and negotiations for a new dispensation was well under way. We got to drink tea and enjoy snacks with the first couple in their official residence afterwards. A very strange experience! Being a young idealistic, aspiring, journalist I asked FW for his thoughts on the role of the media. He answered that he saw it as a necessary evil. I was slightly taken aback...

    In the years since I've used the phrase quite often myself. It comes to mind again with the above breaking news. To spell it out: Setting up refugee camps (or whatever you elect to call them) in South Africa is a necessary evil at best. It is too late to avoid it. It is not good news.

    I actually value the Government's stance up to now, i.e. that it is best for immigrants to integrate with society in general. However, it seems as if this policy was also an excuse to ignore the problem of illegal immigration. Best also not to create camps for Zimbabwe immigrants, how do you explain then some of the mind boggling claims by Thabo Mbeki that there's no crisis in Zimbabwe? For immigrants to integrate successfully into society they should have been officially recognised as immigrants or refugees. They should have been processed, i.e. given documents. This should have been done in a way that ensured local communities that foreigners living among them where there legally. And so one can go on. The list of shortcomings, policy failures, mismanagement, incompetence, corruption and neglect in regard to immigration by Government at all levels is a very very long one.

    Where to from here? I fear incredible damage has been done in the last few weeks. While the occurrence of xenophobia is not entirely new in South Africa, the scale of the the recent events is such that it complicates the issue tremendously. In an ideal world politicians would talk to the relevant local communities and lay their fears to rest so that they can welcome back immigrants and they would live together happily ever after. Dream on...

    We now have a bizarre new kind of Apartheid in South Africa. Us equals South Africans and them the 'illegal ones' or 'refugees'. In the short term pure humanitarian considerations dictate that camps be set up. But would you like to live in such a camp? Do you want your children to live in such a camp!? How much better would it be for these people to get out into society again and earn their keep through productive means. I suspect that the refugee-camps-by-another-name will also function as a first stop in the deportation chain ending somewhere north of our borders. While some of the deported will have doubts about returning to South Africa they will find exactly the same circumstances they fled in the first place - virtual dictatorship in Zimbabwe, anarchy in Somalia, etc. As before most of them will probably come back through the revolving door that is our borders. Deportation is not a viable long-term solution. They only kind of deportation that works is the kind that basically assists the limited amount of immigrants who want to return to their home countries in doing so.

    I'm very curious to see how these camps will be managed. Will the inhabitants thereof have freedom of movement in and out of the camps? Will they be documented? Will they be assisted in finding alternative housing? Will permanent structures be built in the camps? Only time will tell, but what is sure is that South Africans cannot be critical enough in following future developments around this - it goes to the core of the values entrenched in our constitution.

    Thursday, May 22, 2008

    BBC News (online) exposure for this blog - the good & 'the bad'

    I received a message from Mhambi yesterday informing me that comments by both of us on the xenophobia currently raging in parts of South Africa featured on BBC News' website. The BBC piece, headlined 'SA bloggers want end to violence', quoted from ten blogs by South Africans. Inside South Africa (Xenophobia - images of shocking hatred) and Mhambi were included in the pool.

    For a list of all the blogs, and links to all of them, go to the article and you'll find it under the heading 'Related links' in the right-hand menu (you'll need to scroll down a bit).

    I'm delighted! However, this elation is somewhat tempered and needs some qualification.

    South Africa's "bad publicity"
    Most people with any knowledge of public relations or journalism will be able to quote the mantra: "There's no such thing as bad publicity". While this is undoubtedly true in most respects, it certainly does not mean that anyone would crave such 'bad publicity'. In this particular case it saddens me that South Africa is, deservedly, getting a lot of bad publicity. While it is vital that the current events, and its underlying causes, get exposed and debated it is also true that it will result in lost investment and economic damage - in short diminished trust in South Africa. Yes, it may be a wake up call for Government and the ANC which may lead to concerted efforts to solve various pressing socio-economic and human rights issues. But should those gains materialise it comes at a cost. How much better would it have been if these issues received priority before this all blew up in our faces?

    Article not that good
    The second reason for my tempered enthusiasm at being included in the article is quite strange, considering what an impressive news organisation the BBC boasts. To be frank, I didn't find the quality of the particular article that good...

    BBC's human angle
    But let me rather focus on the good for a moment! I love the fact that the BBC goes to great lengths to get the human angle on stories in addition to their more 'hard-news', removed, 'objective', political and analytic reporting. Their stories very often end with an invite to people affected by a specific news story to relate their own experience of events. In the case of their coverage of the xenophobia incidents the standard invite resulted in a very insightful piece 'S African violence: Your stories'. A dimension of reality is added to a story when someone relates, in first person narrative, how a mob knocked on his door and the frantic scramble to get out of harm's way. It is because I appreciate that kind of angle that I included the aforementioned link in my post that was thereafter featured by the BBC.

    BBC's sampling of bloggers' comments
    Sampling bloggers' comments is another way to relate a more 'localised' and 'local' angle on a story. The strategy definitely has value. I put the two words in inverted commas because many of the writers are quite far removed from events. The 'local' or 'localised' element to sampling their views lies in their nationality (South African in this case), rather than their location. While nine of the bloggers seem to live in South Africa -it's difficult to be sure- I suspect that none of them has been affected directly by the violence at the time they posted their opinions (one is actually of English nationality, but living in Cape Town - as pointed out in the article). I believe, for instance, that none of them actually saw burning barricades, mobs roaming the streets and so on. That is, all of them provided opinions based on what they saw or read in the media (no different from anyone else). Furthermore labelling their opinions as representing 'local' opinion is obviously dangerous - as a sample of ten is by no means representative. But it is quite clear that they do indeed represent different 'local' schools of thought and as such relating their opinions have value.

    Poor selection of blogs?
    So where's the 'bad' in all of this? I'm disappointed with the quality of the BBC's selection (read 'the BBC employee's' / 'journalist's '...). Some of the blogs, such as 'Mhambi', 'Reggie' and 'In the news' seem to be of a good to excellent quality. However, a mere casual check of quality should, in my mind, have disqualified more than one of the selected blogs from inclusion in the article. I'm thinking of 'South Africa Sucks' and 'I love South Africa... but I hate my Government'. Both of these blogs feature explicit racism and clearly operate at the level of highly prejudiced propaganda.

    I'm all for freedom of speech, in fact I'm passionate about it. But surely, when one seeks comments on developments in a country you look for people who at least represent a somewhat critical analysis of events? None of the ten blogs included in the article where dismissive of the extremely negative turn of events - rightly so. Thus I'm not arguing that the BBC should have looked for bloggers who sing the government's praises. In fact I don't believe any of the included blogs do that. However, the two mentioned blogs interpret virtually anything that happens in the country through thick racist lenses. As such any new development is not analysed or explained on merit and within a complex context. It is simply rolled out as 'evidence' to support a preconceived notion that 'everything is going down the drain in South Africa' because 'they (blacks) can only mess things up'.

    To drive my point home, surely the BBC would not include 'The UK Sucks' or 'Keep the UK white' (fictional blog names) when sampling English bloggers' opinions on developments in the UK? Unless they're doing an expose on supremacist groups or the like, that is. At the very least they will probably qualify that these (fictionary) blogs represent an ultra-conservative viewpoint?

    While the excerpts from the two blogs pointed out by me on their own don't necessarily relay overtly the racism prevalent on the blogs, they do include questionable statements. For example a quote in the BBC's article, attributed to Doberman on 'I luv South Africa... but I Hate my Government', reads:

    "...for allowing millions of foreigners to invade our country illegally, to steal jobs, resources, to commit crime...".

    I can't help but think that the mobs who are engaging in the sickening xenophobic violence will love this quote... It smacks of the prejudice that seems to be driving them. Note the use of the words 'invade' (not flee from economic hardship or oppressive governments), 'steal jobs' (sure) and 'commit crime'. Are we to believe that in our overflowing prisons foreigners vastly outnumber South Africans? Get real! I don't think this kind of rubbish should feature on a reputable news service's site, unless meant to illustrate prejudice.

    On balance, the misgivings expressed above doesn't change the fact that I'm chuffed at the inclusion of this blog in the BBC's article. I'm thrilled! Hopefully, if in future the BBC is more circumspect about who's ramblings they quote this blog will still make the grade...

    Monday, May 19, 2008

    Xenophobia - images of shocking hatred

    For a photo presentation on the xenophobic violence raging in Gauteng at present, click on the image below.

    I wish against all odds that the xenophobic madness currently under way in South Africa will abate overnight and that we can simply forget about it. But this will off-course not happen by some miracle. It will need commitment, firstly acknowledgement, and strong determined action from Government and all kinds of civic and political leaders.

    The current orgy of hate and lawlessness cannot be ignored or dealt with by run of the mill press statements. Blaming it on 'criminal elements' is also ludicrous as it is as clear as daylight that these acts are being perpetrated by large sections of the particular communities - not just a few individuals. President Mbeki needs to address the nation via national TV and radio and make clear that the Government will not tolerate the evil of Xenophobia. He can gather the new ANC leadership (including Jacob Zuma) and other prominent leaders around him when making such a statement. Obviously this needs to be backed up by action. We don't have the convenience of avoiding the embarrassment of deploying the SANDF in our streets to restore order, it should have been done already. Civil society should also mobilise and reach out a hand to the foreigners at the receiving end of the violence.

    Addressing the many failings that contributed to the current situation must receive urgent attention once the violence has been stemmed. But for now talk of poverty, crime, corruption and the like will not end the violence. What is needed is unqualified condemnation of this scourge at the highest level and forceful action.


    BBC online video on the violence here (external link)




    Saturday, May 17, 2008

    Thabo Mbeki - what could have been

    Pierre de Vos once again got me thinking on his blog Constitutionally Speaking today. In a post titled 'Those were the days...' he nostalgically thinks back to a time when Thabo Mbeki demanded respect with his intellectual discourse (see video clip lower down). A time when, at least for some of us, he made you sit back and take note. He could make you think again about, rethink, set ideas. But alas, HIV, Zimbabwe, Selebi and many other areas of denialism corrupted his legacy and did immense damage to South Africa. I need not elaborate on his short comings. It is painfully apparent in current public discourse - as it should be. Gains in housing and other areas such as water access fade into the background.

    It reminded me about a post I wrote when PW Botha, Die Groot Krokodil, passed away (PW Botha 'defiant to the end') in 2006. I know it's a bit cruel to compare Mbeki to Botha, they presided over markedly different forms of government. In one human rights was severely curtailed and in another it is highly valued, at least in name. However, what a bitter irony that so much I wrote about Botha could also be applied to Mbeki. For the full context on what I said about Botha, follow the above link, but note how the excerpts below also applies to Mbeki:

    ...will mostly remembered for 'what could have been'. He is famous for an important speech he made, dubbed 'The Rubicon Speech' (((Mbeki - "I am an African")))...

    ...Sadly, he didn't follow through on the foundation that was laid... ...The challenge was huge though... ...South Africa ... its white population felt threatened from within and without... ...The rest of the world was viewed as simply being ignorant, as not grasping the complexities that was South Africa...

    ...However, all the potential was there for change...

    ...What was desperately needed was strong, visionary, leadership. ...was definitely a strong leader, as bold as they came... ...He showed promise of vision, but alas did not follow through on this...

    I have no doubt that amidst all the damage, Mbeki also leaves a positive legacy - even if it is overshadowed by all the ills mentioned higher up. Below, with thanks to Pierre de Vos, follows a YouTube clip on Mbeki's famous speech as the then Vice President of South Africa in 1996 (not the full speech). For the full text of the speech go here. The clip was produced for South African Tourism and used in marketing South Africa. The campaign's punch line, still used today, is "South Africa - It's imPossible". The 'im' should be 'strike-through', i.e. a line should be drawn through it, but I haven't yet figured out how to do that in Blogger...

    ...if you're reading this post outside of my blog the YouTube video above may not be displayed - to remedy this visit my blog...

    Monday, May 12, 2008

    Finding (good & bad) memories online

    Former State President (of South Africa), PW Botha,
    shakes hands with a Soweto youth - Aug 31, 1979.
    (As displayed by Daylife and credited to "Beeld AP").

    It's amazing what you can find on the internet, and mostly with very little effort. I followed a tag related to this blog as I was curious to see what I have posted about the particular subject ('Christian Faith'). It turned out that PW Botha's death in late 2006 was the unlikely topic of the post. In the posting titled PW Botha 'defiant to the end' I mentioned a signature photograph of Botha's historic visit to Soweto in 1979. I was nine years old at the time...

    I went to Google Image Search and searched for "Soweto" and "PW Botha". The above picture was the second picture on the first page of results. Now if you were sitting in a newsroom in 1990, before the internet became what it is today, and had to find this picture you'd have your work cut out for you. I love the NET!