‘South African victims of violence overlooked’

June 4th, 2008 - 11:30 am ICT by IANS  

By Fakir Hassen
Johannesburg, June 4 (IANS) South African victims of the xenophobic violence that has wracked the country over the past few weeks have been overlooked as government and NGOs rallied to the assistance of victims from other African countries, according to the premier of Gauteng province, Mbhazima Shilowa. With Gauteng being the province where most of the victims are now facing an uncertain future, Shilowa said that the government and NGOs have been providing humanitarian assistance to immigrants and but leaving out South African citizens who suffered the same fate.

The South African government has declared its top priority to be the reintegration of the migrants into the local areas where violence broke out after locals accused people from other African countries of having taken over jobs and housing intended for the locals.

“We want to extend similar temporary assistance to local people as well, before we talk about integrating immigrants back into communities. South Africans must be the first to be integrated. I see no reason why they should not be integrated immediately,” Shilowa said here Tuesday.

In the xenophobic violence which started May 12, but is now under control, 62 people were killed, hundreds injured, and thousands returned to their home countries. Authorities are now wrestling with caring for thousands more who have been left destitute.

Following visits to affected townships, Shilowa’s team found that most of the homes there that belonged to South Africans had been torched and their personal belongings also burnt, resulting in victims staying with relatives and friends, rather than seeking refuge at churches, police stations and other safe areas like the foreign nationals did.

Because of this, a true picture of the South African victims of the violence was only now beginning to emerge, aid organisations said, adding that it was becoming clear that criminal elements had taken advantage by looting the homes of South African citizens and attacking them as well.

Earlier, African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma had said that 90 percent of refugees at one camp he had visited in Gauteng were South Africans from other provinces.

Meanwhile, attempts to house refugees at two camps set up here with assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees were stalled Tuesday when the NGO Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) secured an interdict in the high court.

LHR brought the application together with the international aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Johannesburg Central Methodist Church, where most of the victims first sought refuge as the attacks fanned out.

LHR said that while it recognised the urgent need for temporary shelters, there were “serious concerns” about the safety of the temporary shelter, which is opposite a hostel from where residents fired shots at the persons who were tasked with setting up the camp over the weekend.

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