Nooshin Erfani, International Federation in Johannesburg
Violent incidents continue to occur throughout South Africa, with fresh attacks reported in six other provinces in the last few days. The South African Red Cross Society (SARCS) has mobilised hundreds of volunteers and staff, from 35 local branches throughout the country, to continue to provide emergency relief to those who have been affected by the violence, now numbered to be more than 25,000 people. According to the briefing given by the Minister of Safety and Security to the diplomatic community in Pretoria on Friday 23 May, there have been over 4,661 incidents and 519 people have been arrested. More than 50 people have lost their lives and at least 550 people have been injured. These numbers are growing daily.
SARCS has been providing emergency relief to affected people since the first attacks against foreigners took place in Alexandra Township in Johannesburg on the night of Sunday 12 May 2008. The attacks have been extremely violent, with mobs burning the shacks of non-South Africans, and beating and chasing the foreigners, who flee to the nearby police stations or community halls for shelter. At least two people have been burnt alive. The attacks have quickly spread to other areas of Gauteng and most recently to six other provinces: Mpumalanga, North West, Limpopo, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Eastern Cape and Western Cape.
These temporary shelters are now housing thousands of people, including women, children and infants and the elderly. Having fled their homes, most have had to leave all their meagre possessions behind. The emergency relief items that SARCS is distributing include blankets, food, hygiene and baby kits and kitchen sets and they are thus a lifeline for the displaced, especially in the cold winter nights. They have reached over 20, 000 beneficiaries since the start of the crisis.
“The Red Cross volunteers and staff are a doing tremendous job under very complex and often difficult and dangerous circumstances. They have organised themselves in groups to be present in most of the sites that provide temporary shelter. Each site has a Red Cross team leader who is assisted by five to ten volunteers providing relief and assistance on the spot, in coordination with other stakeholders”, says Seija Tyrninoksa, International Federation Country Representative for South Africa, who visited a temporary shelter in Primrose and participated in the stakeholder meeting in Primrose Methodist Church on Saturday 24 May.
“It was vital for empowerment and restoring dignity that the community leaders, representing various nationalities, participate in the Primrose coordination on the request of the Red Cross. This should happen in every site, the leaders of the displaced community should participate in the decision-making process concerning the relief assistance provided, safety and security of the temporary shelter, cleanliness of the area and other basic issues that are necessary for any human being”, she adds.
The South African Government initiated a regular coordination forum at the provincial level through their National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) structure in Gauteng, Midrand. A Joint Operation Committee (JOC), shared by the authorities, has taken place every working day since Wednesday. “It is the government’s responsibility in any given country to lead the process for disaster response of this nature and other stakeholders are willing and capable to support them as needed, Red Cross being one of them in their auxiliary role to the public authorities”, states Seija Tyrninoksa.
All components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement – the SARCS, the International Federation and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) - have been actively taking part in the Integrated Joint Operational Committee (JOC), convened and chaired by the Government’s National Disaster Management Committee (NDMC) both at the national and provincial level. The JOC includes local and international organisations, such as various United Nations agencies, IOM, OXFAM, MSF, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation and some others.
The International Federation Southern Africa Zone office is liaising on a daily basis with the ICRC and working very closely with SARCS, providing them with technical assistance and support. This support has included expertise in operations and relief management, logistics and procurement as well as communications, media relations and donor liaison.
SARCS launched an emergency appeal, for one million rand, on 16 May 2008. This figure has had to be revised, given the rapid rise in the number of affected people, to R7 million. South Africans have demonstrated their spirit of ubuntu by supporting the appeal, with many donations, in cash and kind, being received from concerned individuals and families. “The generous response and support from media and companies such as Standard Bank, MTN, Pick n Pay, BP and the South African public shows clearly and strongly that it is only some South Africans that are hostile towards foreigners, not the entire nation and this has to be highlighted. People cook at their homes, collect needed items and bring them on a daily basis to distribution and feeding sites. The faithfulness of the public in times of emergency is heartwarming”, concludes Seija Tyrninoksa.