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South Africa: Cape Town Mosques Shelter Immigrants

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  • Zafar Khan
    Cape Town Mosques Shelter Immigrants By Yazeed Kamaldien, IOL Correspondent Sun. May. 25, 2008
    Message 1 of 1 , May 25 5:40 AM
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      Cape Town Mosques Shelter Immigrants
      By Yazeed Kamaldien, IOL Correspondent
      Sun. May. 25, 2008


      CAPE TOWN — Mosques and churches across Cape Town have opened their doors this weekend to African immigrants seeking protection from local citizens who have attacked and chased them out of their informal settlements.
      "We have been calling them (South Africans) brother. We are friends and they showed us respect," said Assumani Wilondja, an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

      Wilondja, who arrived in South Africa in 2002 and runs a hair salon, was chased out of Lower Crossroads informal settlement on Friday night.

      "They broke my house and took everything. They said just go and leave everything here. They pushed the door. We moved in peace," he said.

      "I have three children and I was alone. I couldn’t fight back. There were a lot of people."

      Mosques committees visited the Cape Town police headquarters to take in refugees who spent the last night sleeping on the sidewalk.

      The Muslim Judicial Council, an Islamic authority in South Africa which is headquartered in Cape Town, asked all mosques to accommodate African refugees.

      Wilondja said he felt the South African government "failed to protect us".

      "We were not safe in our countries, that’s why we came here. But now we are also not safe."

      An estimated 10,000 people have been displaced by South Africa's anti-immigrant violence in Cape Town, a city spokesman said Sunday, taking the total number of displaced in the country to more than 35,000.

      African immigrants, from various African states, have been killed, beaten and chased out of their homes for days.

      Xenophobic attacks on African immigrants started in Johannesburg, the country’s economic capital, last weekend before spreading to Cape Town.

      Not Animals

      Mufano Wasso, an asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was surprised by what happened.

      "We don’t know why they chase us away like this, like animals," he complained.

      "They are beating us and stealing from us. I was staying in Lower Crossroads (informal settlement). I ran away from there yesterday morning, with my wife and five children."

      Wasso said he has been living in South African for five years already and works as an electrician.

      His wife and children are staying with friends in Mitchell’s Plain, also an impoverished area with high crime rates, while he was seeking assistance from the local police.

      "I went to the police station in Lower Crossroads and they could help me. Police came with me into my street to fetch my blankets and bed at home," he recalls bitterly.

      "The police stood near me but when I opened my house I saw that the people took everything."

      Nibizi Msabah, an asylum seeker from Burundi, feels very disappointed in South Africa.

      "We expected a high level of hospitality but now we are being hunted like animals in a forest," said Msabah.

      "It’s very bad. A lot of Somali people have been killed and injured in the past and the government did nothing. Now the whole world can see what happens in South Africa," he fumed.

      "We are sleeping in the streets and we don’t know who to talk to. The South African government only offers us permits and then leaves us. We need to survive on our own. We have no support from the government or the United Nations."

      South African Muslims :Is Apartheid's Spirit Alive?
      By Yusuf Ahmed


      We live in a time when many South Africans are sincerely attempting to shrug off the atrocities of the past in a spirit of forgiveness.

      "We live in a time when many South Africans are sincerely attempting to shrug off the atrocities of the past in a spirit of forgiveness"
      "We must do something for the brothers and sisters in Soweto. (1) We always talk, but seldom act. We have to go," said my friend Shiraz. He was right. We had always spoken of our expansive humanitarian intentions but had never tangibly done anything of note.
      The final week of the month of Ramadan always seems to inspire a prick in the conscience of many Muslims, young and old, the "pious" and "impious." Every Muslim attempts to maximize the blessings obtained in the month in the hope of receiving divine forgiveness for past sins. Shiraz and I were no different. We wanted to cash in on the month's lucrative heavenly rewards; it would also be an additional bonus to get an insight into the Soweto community while doing a little bit of charity work.

      In the company of the tiny community of believers, the bulk of whom had modest homes sprinkled within an earshot of the Adhan (call to prayer) of the Soweto Mosque, our morning was thoroughly enjoyable. Talking to people, delivering our food parcels, and listening to their stories certainly helped the stomach grumbles that came with the scorching South African summer day of fasting.

      The last home we visited was the most memorable. It was the home of a delightful, widowed sexagenarian who had recently embraced Islam. Adorned with an affectionate smile, she spoke of her great hope for South Africans to turn to Islam en masse. "If only my people became aware of Islam, they would love it," she said. She had made our day, although it was not over yet.

      There was a disturbing trend of new converts in Soweto whose early passion for Islam is extinguished due to the treatment they receive from Indians.
      It was time for the Zhuhr prayer (noon prayer). We took our seats in the temporary, subsidiary section of the mosque. Muslims had to use this small section of the mosque as a last-minute concoction after white supremacists had — a few months earlier — bombed the main prayer hall.

      A handful of South African Indian men huddled together in a corner of the room, whispering to each other. They realized — via our complexions — that we were outsiders. Their leader approached us. He was a long-bearded man, wearing a short, shin-length pair of trousers and a powder-blue kurta. (2)

      "As-salaamu alaikum, bhai, (3) I'm the amir (leader) of the [Tablighi] Jamaat here from Lenz.(4) What are you two brothers doing here? Visiting?"

      Shiraz took up the diplomatic mantle and responded, "Wa alaikum as-salam, uncle, we came to spend some time with the community. It's the end of Ramadan and we want to help with some iftar (meal to break the fast) parcels."

      " Al-hamdu lillah, that's good," he responded. "We came to do the same. We come every year to this place ... We also come to teach the six-points of tabligh and give these people proper da`wah to correct their `aqeedah (beliefs)."

      The man reminded us that if we needed any help, he and his jamaat would be glad to assist. We thanked him and assumed our position on the colorful, but somewhat damp-smelling carpet of the mosque.

      We waited for what we assumed to be the start of the compulsory four cycles of prayer. However, we found that the Soweto Muslims normally attend a sermon before the noon prayers every Sunday, which usually lasts around 20 minutes. The sermon was not too dissimilar to the typical Friday sermon.

      It made a lot of sense to us. The congregation was relaxed and free from the burden of work on Sundays. Those who were formerly Christians were used to attending Sunday morning services anyway. It was a pragmatic and intelligent solution to hold a talk at this time of the week.

      Roughly 45 percent of Muslims in South Africa are of Indian origin.
      The imam spent 20 minutes exploring the topic of racism. He spoke of the extraordinary levels of discrimination faced by Black Muslims at the hands of their Indian "brothers" who had been born into Islam. He reminded us of Indian Muslim bosses physically abusing their Black Muslim employees and the torturous working conditions that have Black Muslims endure.

      The imam mentioned that there was a disturbing trend of new converts in Soweto whose early passion for Islam is extinguished due to the treatment they receive from Indians — it reached the extent that some even forwent their commitment to the faith. He closed the talk by urging for unity and assuring the Black community that there were sincere Indians around who were welcoming and not hostile. He implored all of us to strengthen the bonds of Islam under one banner, particularly because it was the month of Ramadan.

      The talk certainly did not lack punch, and although our bellies were crying out for nourishment, we definitely were not short of food for thought. After the compulsory prayers were concluded, Shiraz and I turned to each other and mulled over what we'd just heard. We were impressed with the talk, yet saddened at the situation that befell us all as Muslims.

      I looked ahead, half-optimistic about a utopian future, half-disillusioned at the current situation. A powder-blue clad arm entered my line of sight. An index-finger was viciously wagging. The man's eyes were furious.

      "That bloody guy is the biggest bloody racialist around," he said.

      The wagging finger was directed at the imam who was a few feet ahead of us. He continued, "The bloody bastard hates us Indians after all we've done for them. We bring them food in Ramadan and this is how they thank us! Look at him, his namaz (prayer) isn't even counted!"

      Our eyes converged at the man in the powder-blue kurta, who was pointing at the imam's trousers. The man had deemed the imam's prayer to be invalid since his trousers were about an inch over his ankles.

      The powder-blue man stormed off to his crew, advising them that they were to leave with immediate effect. Shiraz and I mirrored a confused grin at each other. "This is South Africa," I thought, "Oh dear! This is South Africa."

      According to Dr. Suleman Dangor, a professor at the University of Kwazulu-Natal , roughly 45 percent of Muslims in South Africa are of Indian origin. The Malay group, made of a medley of influences from Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, and mixtures with white settlers, comprises the other sizeable majority, also representing around 45 percent of Muslims. The remaining 10 percent is a seriously inexact approximation. But, one can find Black converts, as well as immigrants from Rwanda, Mozambique, Malawi, Somalia, and many more Muslims from African countries who were attracted by South Africa's financial charm.

      There is a very small minority of Arab Muslims because the bulk of the Lebanese community is Christian. White Converts are at a premium in South Africa, but a tiny percentage does exist. Some of their gripes with assimilation into the mainstream Indian and Malay communities can be seen more as cultural hurdles that need to be overcome rather than rampant discrimination.

      Originally brought to South Africa to work on the sugar cane fields on the East Coast, South African Indians carved a niche over the generations as astute businesspeople. They managed to become one of the most financially secure communities in the country, which is a remarkable tribute to human endeavor.

      There still lies a dark poisonous underbelly within the community —racism.
      Riding the storm of discrimination in the country's gloomy apartheid past, South Africa's Indian Muslims can be proud of freedom fighters who went through extreme adversity for the liberation of the country. However, no matter how much the Pahad brothers, Dullah Omar, or Ahmed Kathrada — just to name a few — achieved for the multi-racial democracy that South Africa can boast at present, there still lies a dark and poisonous underbelly within the community — racism.

      A recent meeting with a neighbor in my apartment block was an interesting example of this. He had moved into the building only eight months ago, and when I queried what seemed to be a strange decision to leave, he rolled his eyes and mentioned, with an ample garnish of disgust, "Too much of that kind of people here." I knew what he meant.

      I wondered whether he realized that he was living in Africa. I pondered if he knew that he is part of the minority in this country, and that that kind [blacks] is the majority. Perhaps he needed to grasp the simple concept that if he had wanted to live in a place loaded with Gujarati Indians, perhaps it would have been wiser to move to Gujarat.

      There was also a fresh whirl of anger created in Muslim and non-Muslim circles when it came to light that a local Indian Muslim shopkeeper had severely abused his Black employees — Motlalentoa Hlalane and his cousin Lebohang, who were both teenagers. The man — normally a pillar of all things wholesome within the local Muslim community — only served to reemphasize the notion that Indians exploit Blacks, and use them as lackeys and pseudo-slaves, resulting in disastrous detriment to public relations between the two racial groups.

      We live in a time when many South Africans — White, Black, Malay, and Indian — are sincerely attempting to shrug off the atrocities of the past in a spirit of forgiveness and compassion to build a new, idyllic society. There are some among the South African Indian community who are attached to the yo-yo condition of having an inferiority complex in relation to whites, while they also feel inherently superior to Blacks.

      This attitude must be abolished, and as the aphorism says, "Those who don't change find themselves living in a world that no longer exists." On that warm Sunday in Soweto, Shiraz and I saw the ugly reality of our condition in people who seemingly had every intention of doing good charitable work. That makes the paradox all the more unpalatable.

      Yusuf Ahmed is a freelance journalist based in South Africa.

      (1) Soweto is an urban area in Johannesburg, its population is predominantly black.

      (2) A kurta is a traditional piece of clothing worn in India. It is a loose shirt falling either just above or somewhere below the knees of the wearer.

      (3) The suffix bhai is often used by Indians as means of conveying affection or respect for each other

      (4) Lenasia is large Indian township south of Soweto in Gauteng Province, South Africa. Lenasia is also popularly called Lenz.

      Islamic Relief South Africa helps combat violence


      Islamic Relief South Africa (IRSA) is appealing for donations for those affected by the recent violence, which has left twenty two people dead and caused 13,000 to flee their homes.

      The attacks, which began on May 12 2008, have involved armed mobs beating, raping, robbing and killing foreigners in the Alexandra Township. There were also reports of people being set on fire.

      The violence has since spread to the East Rand townships of Tembisa, Thokoza and Primrose, and central Johannesburg.

      Those targeted were mainly migrants from African countries such as Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Somalia, DRC and Burundi and many of those affected have been women and children.

      IRSA is concentrating its relief efforts in Tembisa and in the City Centre of Johannesburg, where immediate needs include baby clothes, baby food and nappies, sanitary towels, and other food items.

      IRSA has previously provided assistance to hundreds of migrants and victims of xenophobic attacks, from Africa and the Asian subcontinent, through its forced migration programme.

      As well as food and shelter, refugees and asylum seekers also require education, physical and social security and health care.

      IRSA will be hosting a Refugee Integration Workshop on Africa Day, Sunday, May 25 2008 in Johannesburg. The event is part of ongoing efforts to advocate and enable the government in combating violence against refugees and asylum-seekers in South Africa.

      South Africa's Xenophobia Victims
      A personal look at the rainbow nation's refugees -- where will they go now?
      Published 2008-05-24 03:12 (KST)
      Nicolas van der Leek (Nick)


      Violence has reigned for a horrifying fortnight in Johannesburg and in recent days shows signs of spreading to other major centers, like Cape Town. The plight of these doubly disenfranchised people, when viewed up close, is even more disturbing.

      "The poor" aren't just a concept or a category; they are many, many different people with their own hopes, dreams, ideas and difficulties.

      I recently visited a large group of refugees at Jeppes Police Station, in central Johannesburg. They were not miserable -- most of them. A lot of them greeted me; some smiled and called to me when I took out my camera. They were from Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Angola and, yes, Zimbabwe. There were about 1,500-2,000 refugees crowded onto the lawns, a sort of backyard courtyard area behind Jeppe Police Station in Johannesburg.

      When we first arrived at the police station my companion and I thought nothing was going on, because from the outside the police station looked random and unassuming. There were two strange looking black men, one with a Muslim like skullcap on, standing outside, well dressed but looking troubled. Behind them was a red ant, a man dressed in a red overall and carrying a green crowbar. We followed him into the building and toward many more "ants" and a din, and then there was a huge crowd, as though Jesus were on the other side giving an impromptu sermon. What other reason could have brought so many people here together?

      Near the door was a young white girl handing out pieces of paper to about a dozen children who were scribbling and coloring on their paper while sitting quietly around her on the ground. In itself, it was a lovely portrait of man's humanity to man. The crowd was subdued. I have taught classrooms with 30 students that made far more noise than this 2,000-strong crowd made did. They seemed spooked and disoriented and dismayed, but not morose or angry.

      My companion Chris (also a photographer) led me forward, and after speaking to a priest who wanted to refer us to "someone in charge" we spoke to a high-ranking person with "Burger" emblazoned on his chest. Later on we met Sheila, a volunteer from no organization, who was helping out. She showed us a little boy with an interesting pair of glasses he'd made and asked if we wanted to take a photo. She said some of the people had been here since Sunday. I asked her where they slept, and she said there were tents around the back.

      On the raised patio there was a table, and entry to this higher platform was controlled by a few red ants. We saw people with a lot of bread and a few cups with beef soup going up and down steps. People had to fill in forms, I'm guessing, each time they came up to eat. There were a few individuals with bright yellow and blue police vests milling among the crowd. I wanted to walk among the crowd but Chris was concerned for our safety. Sheila, the white women who sort of became our chaperone, said we'd be perfectly safe and led us down between the people.

      We walked between pots and pans, the odd fridge, someone cooking pieces of meat on bone and tomatoes, mothers with children, people sleeping in the sun on mattresses, large groups standing around, possibly in prayer, or just listening to someone speaking quietly, between all the human paraphernalia -- scattered, you had to guess, you had to imagine, by tempests of violence.

      Some refugees I spoke to said they were just sleeping on the open ground. Women and children were in the tents, some breastfeeding, some just lying there, obviously feeling lost and uncertain. How would you feel if all your possessions amounted to a few blankets and a big plastic container loaded with dishes? You'd left your country and now didn't know where you belonged.

      Someone said that there were plans to put everyone in an area together, which made me think that "integration" hadn't worked in the black townships. It hasn't worked on many university campuses either. South Africans, black and white, appear disintegrated, and -- as a society -- to be disintegrating further. The country's entire population, even including the flood of immigrants, is shrinking at -0.5 percent a year.

      The tent feels oppressively hot and on the outside lots of washing is strung on lines, dripping, causing marshy conditions underfoot. I stumble upon a woman who is about to urinate in a corner where all this washing was hanging and it occurs to me that after a while this place isn't going to be suitable for so many people.

      I also stumble upon a young Zimbabwean mother, Thandi, and a cute little girl, Diana. She is the only person who is certain that she wants to go back home (to Zimbabwe). She says they have made arrangements to catch a bus. She seems resigned to it, but determined, and in the few moments I share with her I can't help being very touched by the difficulties just taking the trip home with such a young child will involve. Imagine going back to Zimbabwe now, with the elections imminent and 77 tons of weapons equipment having recently arrived.

      A number of older women lie inside a tent; one says to me, "Your brothers did this to us."

      It takes a while for the portent of this to sink in. I say, "I think the prices going up, for bread, for the bus fare, that's why the people have become angry. Everyone is struggling. And so they thought they can get rid of you, not because they hate you, but because they have become desperate."

      I think they might think I am not being sympathetic, or somehow not being supportive of what has happened to them, but they see my point immediately, agreeing that for everyone there it has suddenly become very expensive and very difficult to survive.

      I suggest they try to find work on farms, because with food prices going up, probably there will be more jobs. I also tell them about the oil price, saying that unfortunately the future is looking more and more difficult for everyone. But I say, "If we can work on a farm and grow something together, maybe we can be all right."

      It is only during the drive back through Johannesburg's unfamiliar streets that I start to recall my discomfort taking pictures of these vulnerable people to Chris. I recount my impressions of the terrible pictures of the burning man (which featured in newspapers around the world).

      I'm clearer now than ever that their consciences ought to be bugging the hell out of them -- standing right there, taking pictures, while a man is burning right in front of you. Look, maybe they did try to help. I don't know. What I do know is that there where we were I was touched profoundly by my encounter with the human condition. It seemed to me particularly vulgar to walk around among these poor people taking photos of them.

      A few people had asked me, "Why do you want photos?" and I took a moment to consider the question carefully. I said, "Because people want to understand and need to understand what has happened to you. Because people want to know what has happened. I also want to know. And maybe this can help people to see what is happening here."

      And so I hope you can see what I saw.
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