The South African police (SAPS) and the Metro police in Johannesburg, this weekend again targeted poor refugees, in particular those who are desperately seeking shelter in and around the Central Methodist Mission in Johannesburg. Easy prey, as they flock to this church in the hope of escaping another living hell, under Mugabe. Apparantly, SAPS and Metro police pounced upon these destitude for the serious offence of 'loitering' and 'sleeping on the pavements'. According to an article in News 24, these violent actions and arrests have been condemned by the Legal Resources Centre and Lawyers for Human Rights (statement), confirmed by doctors from Medesines Sans Frontires. In a joint statement LHR and LRC say,
The City of Johannesburg and the Gauteng Provincial Government have been aware of the predicament of the people living in and around the church for well over a year. Despite undertaking to provide shelter for these people, we understand that the government authorised the unlawful police action to arrest them. The only crime they have committed is to be destitute and without shelter
These human rights organisations, then call upon SAPS to immediately release the detainees, but also to the
'City of Johannesburg and the Gauteng Provincial Government to urgently deliver on their undertaking to provide basic shelter to the people seeking refuge at the Central Methodist Church (sic).'.
These attacks on refugees fleeing the hell of Zimbabwe, is not an isolated incident that sometimes flare up and South Africans should not act surprise. Our criminal justice system should prioritise serious violent crime, instead of spending much-needed resources pretending to be 'fighting crime'. Their most recent actions last night, feed into the suspiscion that our public institutions are still being used to protect the powerful and the elite. The vulnerable sectors in our society are institutionally being singled out, 'other-fied' and demonised, as the new menace to be fought and stamped out. In an article, on xenophobia, migrant labour, and the role of the church, Dr Genevieve James from Unisa, in a publication on theology, development and ethics, From Our side, states that way before the much publicised xenophobic attacks in that shameful, bloody May last year, our various institutions were key agents of xenophobia. She names the South African government’s Home Affairs Department, the media, the South African Police Services and then what she calls “the South African public at large” who blames, create and tell urban myths and jokes that “belittle” and “blame”, but also that unleash “verbal and physical abuse” and start “all-out wars against migrant communities” (James 2008:67-68).
Pumle Dineo Gqodla, in Go Home or die here (2008:211) concurs, but is more scathing in her analysis,
'Unless South Africans are an exceedingly naïve nation, it is not possible to be ignorant of how we arrived at a point where Ernesto Nhamuave could be burnt alive for being ‘foreign’. Even a cursory glance at South African society a few years ago would throw up the ways in which, progressive Constitution notwithstanding, there are ‘throw away’ people. These are people who do not matter, whose humanity, once successfully misrecognised, renders them safe to violate. Such people range in the South African public eye from poor people of various sorts who can be nameless ‘victims’ of violence, farm workers in remote parts of the country and Black lesbians against whom a consistent war is waged, to immigrants from the African continent.
So, here I stand and I join the chorus condeming the latest attack on these poor, black refugees from Zimbabwe and renew the call for our government instead, to provide services to these asymumseekers, to the desperately poor, otherwise, it seems as if their hell is not over yet.