Gaining access to social services, including shelter, is extremely challenging for forced migrants who have come to South Africa, the economic hub of Africa.
There are various competing interests that have, on occasion, turned “locals” on “non-locals”, resulting in violent upheavals.
Peaceful communities in seemingly integrated neighbourhoods have become battlegrounds, ignited by the government’s failure to make service delivery a reality.
Forced migrants and refugees are exploited by unscrupulous landlords and often subjected to further degradation by officials and by some members of the police force in Johannesburg and Durban.
The official line, etched in the psyches of most officials, is that forced migrants and refugees living in privately owned dwellings evicted during the “clean-up” operations in cities, are not the government’s responsibility.
When challenged that they are, the response is that municipalities are not local government or part of government at all.
Granted, we are living in different times from the Smuts era and the municipalities run by the British that discriminated legislatively with blueprints in the 1940s that paved the way for segregated townships.
We have a progressive constitution which recognises the rights of refugees. Section 27(f)) of the Refugee Act 130 of 1998, among others, entitles a refugee to full legal protection as set out in Chapter 2 of the constitution and the right to seek employment.
The reality for refugees: narratives of shattered lives, hounded by officials and the potential for xenophobic reaction.
Tomorrow is World Refugee Day and the mainly Zimbabwean tenants who were cramped in shipping containers in Carlisle Street, central Durban, but are now sharing space in overcrowded rooms, are uncertain of their fate once the “accommodation” is shut down.
Almost two years since legal action was launched against the landlord, at great legal expense and several raids later, eThekwini officials have not once presented a solution to house the ousted migrants.
When Indians bought properties on the Berea, it did not matter that they had improved their economic status from indentured slave workers.
They had “penetrated” into white areas that led to the first and second penetration commission under Judge James.
The anti-Indian sentiments were initially led by Europeans in the Transvaal in 1937 who objected to Indians moving into white areas which forced General Jan Smuts to set up a commission under Judge Broome to discreetly investigate the complaints.
When a beachfront flat owned by Jimmy James was raided by the police, it was because he allowed his wife to live with him. She was black and was therefore living illegally in terms of the Immorality Act.
Similar raids followed in Albert Park in 1987 and into the early 1990s, starting with Patria Davis in Clifford Court.
The apartheid divisions continue. Nowadays the shift is to “them”, the “non-South Africans”, and “us”. We have become a united country when it suits us.
We must remind city officials that consulting with people is a better approach than the ones adopted by apartheid officials in their zest to “clean up” the city.
We must care for the forced migrants and refugees and we must care for South Africans who are living in abject poverty.
Perhaps on Youth Day last Saturday, officials, politicians and the police in Durban could have shifted into top gear raising funds for the poor living in shacks, shipping containers and others crowded like sardines in cubicles made of cheap boards in many buildings in the city.
In Johannesburg too, what if the rugby was used, like the 2010 World Cup, to raise funds to wipe out poverty, reduce crime and provide the shelter needed by millions of South Africans and refugees?
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l Dr Sayed Iqbal Mohamed is the chairman, Organisation of Civic Rights.
l For tenants’ rights advice, telephone Loshni Naidoo or Pretty Gumede at 031 304 6451.