Nooshin Erfani, International Federation in Johannesburg
His Excellency, Dan. E. Frederiksen, the Ambassador of Denmark to South Africa, was taken on a tour of two temporary shelters yesterday by the Gauteng Provincial Manager for the South African Red Cross Society, Mbuso Mthembu, and accompanied by the International Federation’s Deputy Head of Zone for Southern Africa, Esther Okwanga.
“The shocking images of violence against people from other countries who live in South Africa and destruction of their property, have made a deep impression on all of us,” said the Ambassador, in a statement released on the Royal Danish Embassy web site.
The Ambassador also announced a pledge of 100.000 DKK (approximately R167,000) to the victims of the xenophobic violence in South Africa, which would be given to the South African Red Cross Society (SARCS). “We wanted to show our solidarity and support to those people who have been affected by the violence, both through a personal visit and through our cash donation,” explained His Excellency. “We have been very impressed with the organisation at both shelters, given the great difficulties that are being faced.”
“It is wonderful to see the way the South African public has itself risen to assist the displaced, either through donations or by volunteering at the shelters. This shows that it was a minority of South Africans who perpetrated these acts, and that most have a great deal of sympathy for the plight of those affected,” he added.
At the Primrose temporary shelter, His Excellency met Barbara Jensen, the branch manager of the nearby Germiston Branch of SARCS. She is part of the team who has been distributing emergency relief items to the men, women and children that have fled there, escaping from violent anti-foreigner attacks in recent weeks.
Barbara explained that 97 tents have been erected and that each tent houses an average of ten people. Emergency relief assistance is being provided to the displaced people by volunteers from the local church, Doctors Without Borders, local municipality health workers and the South African Red Cross Society. As at other shelters, SARCS provides first aid, basic counselling and tracing services, as well as food and emergency relief items such as blankets, and hygiene and baby articles.
“The weather has been so cold and we have seen an increasing number of children with chest infections,” says Barbara, “it is heartbreaking to see infants and young children having to deal with these conditions”.
Mbuso Mthembu points to the row of 25 toilets, which have to be shared by the 1000 people in the temporary shelter area. He explains that the health hazard is especially worrying since the portable toilets do not get emptied often enough. “The local municipality is trying their best, but they are not able to cope” he adds. “Educational programmes and involvement of the displaced population should be initiated to promote cleanliness in the area, even under these circumstances” Mthembu concludes.
Mbuso then drove the visitors to Jeppe Police Station, where a further 1200 people are taking shelter. There, the four communal tents are not enough to house everyone, so a section of the parking lot has been cordoned off with rope and canvas to create a makeshift shelter.
The staff of the Jeppe Police Station has had to work longer shifts and, together with SARCS and other organisations, provide emergency relief for the displaced taking shelter there. Director Louw, the head of the Station, expressed his gratitude to the various organisations active there. “The partners have all done their bit and this has definitely lightened the burden”, he says.
The visitors were shown the areas where the daily-distributed hygiene and baby kits are assembled by volunteers, as well where the piles of donated clothing are sorted. With the help of community leaders from amongst the displaced, the shelter organisers have also started a temporary crèche, in a corner of the courtyard easily recognisable by the long row of children’s drawings hanging from a string.
Since the beginning of the attacks on 11 May, SARCS has deployed some 150 staff and volunteers in more than 30 sites and temporary shelters around the country where displaced people have found refuge. The SARCS has also set up a tracing service for missing family members, in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
“The Red Cross has been tirelessly distributing essential food, hygiene articles and clothing to the victims of this violence,” explains David Stephens, Acting Secretary General of the South African Red Cross Society. “Many of them are in total distress, and we are also providing psychosocial support, as well as first aid services. We are referring the sick and wounded to clinics and hospitals. We will remain active, in close cooperation with other stakeholders, as long as we are needed.”