Xeno camp shuts down
Government decides it’s time to send remaining refugees back to the communities they ran from
The last 190 refugees from the wave of xenophobia that swept through Durban three months ago will be out on the streets on Tuesday when the Chatsworth camp that was set up to house the thousands who fled their homes is shut down by government. This weekend, 38 families and 99 singletons were nervously preparing for the move, which they dread. They have called the tented camp on the Westcliff Sports Field home since the first attacks took place in Isipingo in the wake of a controversial speech by King Goodwill Zwelithini.
Two weeks ago, provincial and city government met with the committee representing the mainly Burundian and Congolese refugees – who have been unable to secure refugee status from the UN and relocation to another country – to inform them they would have to return to the communities from which they were driven.
Transport, Community Safety and Liaison MEC Willies Mchunu, who chairs the interministerial committee set up to deal with the crisis, said at the time he was “pleased” with the progress made during negotiations with communities to allow foreign nationals to return.
However, camp residents were worried about what would happen when they returned, while others were looking for alternative accommodation.
Daniel Dunia, the spokesperson for the camp’s residents, told City Press that each family was being given an allowance of R7 000 by the UN to try to restart their lives. Single people were being given R3 500 for their first month’s rent and food. Businesspeople who had lost their livelihoods when South Africans looted foreign-owned shops in Isipingo, KwaMakhutha, Chatsworth, Inanda and Umlazi were not given any compensation, he said.
“We are scared about what will happen on Tuesday. We don’t really know what steps have been taken to convince people we should be reintegrated. Many of us can’t go back to where we were living. My landlord has already put somebody else in my flat.
“My shop is still empty, but I don’t have the means to buy equipment and stock to start up again. At least if we who lost business could be given something to start over, it would be a bit easier for us. Now we will be out on the street – no jobs, no business, no means of supporting ourselves,” Dunia said.
He said they had asked for the camp to be kept open until they were properly resettled.
“But it looks like government has decided that we have to go. Where we will go? I don’t know. We will have to see on Tuesday,” he said.
Dunia said they could not return to their homelands because of “violence”. The Burundian and Congolese governments were also not able to repatriate them.
“We are stuck here. This is getting worse for us,” he said.
Congolese national Omba Mufunda echoed Dunia’s sentiments.
“We have been here for three months. We are scared to go back to the community. The xenophobia has stopped, but what if it happens again, just like after 2008? People have hate in their hearts and this will happen again when we go back to KwaMakhutha. All I want is to go back home now, but I can’t. I don’t know how this is going to end,” he said.
Police officers on duty at the camp – which has been scaled down since most of the Malawian and Zimbabwean refugees were bussed home more than a month ago – said they were unsure what would happen on Tuesday.
“The people don’t want to go and I’m not sure what our orders will be,” said an officer, who cannot be named because he is not allowed to talk to the media. “It is going to be difficult. We’re waiting to hear.”
The 4cm-long needle that made Annetjie Pieterse ‘go mad with pain’
SANCTUARY NO MORE This refugee camp erected on a sports field in Chatsworth is due to close this week, but many of the people staying in it have nowhere else to go
PAINFUL GIFT Annetjie Pieterse with her Mother’s Day jersey