Vuyo Bavuma, South African Red Cross Society
The recent wave of urban violence may no longer be making the news headlines but many South Africans are continuing to open their hearts – and purses – to alleviate of the plight of thousands of internally displaced people in South Africa.
On Thursday, the South African Red Cross Society (SARCS), its staff and volunteers handed out essential emergency relief items to more than 1,500 displaced people at the newly established relocation site for safe shelter near the Rand Airport in Johannesburg. The items included food parcels with maize meal, canned tins of fish, cooking oil, environmentally friendly gel stoves and cooking pots. The items were procured with a generous R3-million donation from Standard Bank. The institution had asked SARCS to ensure that the funds would benefit directly the needy target.
The SARCS also distributed blankets and tarpaulins that were donated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Similar items were also distributed to about 350 displaced people accommodated at a safety settlement in another relocation site in Midrand.
The relocation sites accommodate mainly Zimbabweans and Mozambicans. In an attempt to improve the living conditions at the settlement, there are several toilet facilities and water taps. There are also security guards manning the gates while others patrol the settlement.
The settlement was set up after the living conditions in the original temporary shelters at the Germiston Town Hall and Primrose and other ad hoc sites were found to be unsuitable and a potential health hazard for the displaced.
During the distribution of the relief items this week, the mood was generally relaxed while the people eagerly queued for the supplies at tables manned by the SARCS staff and volunteers.
A 28-year-old single mother from Mozambique was the first person to receive the relief supplies. “The supplies are lifeline for me and my baby. I am very happy,” she said as the colleagues helped her to carry the relief items to her tent.
Seija Tyrninoksa, country representative for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said the overwhelming financial support from South African companies and the general public confirmed the compassion displayed towards the victims of the xenophobic attacks. “The outpouring of financial support is definitely a proof that ordinary citizens care about the principles of ubuntu. Their response is one of the bright sparks in this sad episode. I am happy to see the positive impact of the emergency relief items on the lives of the people. We will continue to try to make their lives as comfortable as possible under these difficult circumstances,” she said.
Mandisa Kalako-Williams, the newly-appointed SARSC secretary general, said the distribution of the relief items was one of the ongoing attempts to restore dignity of the displaced people. “Now the people won’t have to beg for food all the time. To a certain extent, they can now resume their respective of roles of being fathers, mothers to their families. They can cook their own food. We always try to bring them as close as possible to the living conditions they had been used to. But we know that our assistance would never quite achieve that,” Ms Kalako-Williams said.
John Roche, IFRC’s Geneva-based Africa Operations Coordinator, also praised the distribution of the relief items. “The distribution was good on a number of fronts. It was a result of a lot of work behind the scenes. We wanted to ensure that people are removed from the cafeteria-type of a situation in which they get food handouts,” he said.
“We want to give them means to make their own food. This goes a long way to restore their own dignity and independence, which is a very good thing considering the circumstances,” he concluded.