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RIGHTS-SOUTHERN AFRICA: Xenophobia Impacts on Mozambique

Bayano Valy

MAPUTO, Jun 13 2008 (IPS) - A month ago, 47-year-old Catarina Manungo was the owner of a two-bedroom house in Boksburg, where she lived with her four children and a grand-daughter. A few short weeks later, Manungo and her two youngest children find themselves living in a tent in the Maputo neighbourhood of Matola Garre.

Manungo and her children are part of the 37,000-strong contingent of Mozambicans who have fled xenophobic violence in South Africa over the past month. Tens of thousands of other migrants from all over Africa are living in crowded shelters inside South Africa. Officials in Maputo put the number of Mozambicans killed at 23 – the violence claimed the lives of over 50 people.

Manungo joined her husband – a miner – in South Africa in 1982. They saved enough from his earnings to buy a house before he died in 2003. Like most Mozambicans in South Africa, Manungo worked in the informal sector, eking out a living selling vegetables. She stayed on in South Africa rather than return to Mozambique when the civil war ended in 1992 because she felt the living conditions were better and had no family to return to.

She says she lived in relative peace with her South African neighbours until a marauding mob ransacked her home and burnt much of her property on May 21. She managed to gather her children and flee. Her voice choked with emotion, she told a meeting convened in Maputo this week to discuss the regional impacts of the crisis that she never imagined something like this could happen.

The gathering of 174 representatives of civil society organizations from Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe was organised by the Southern African Trust (SAT) and Mozambique's Foundation for Community Development (FDC), on June 10 to assess the situation of people displaced by the attacks and examine the root causes of the violence.

The chairperson of the FDC, Graça Machel, told the meeting she had heard gruelling first-hand accounts of the violence when she visited centres set up inside South Africa for fleeing migrants by government and civil society organisations. Machel said most of the displaced expressed anger at South Africans, but she said the challenge was to channel this anger and desperation into a force that "will enable us to say never again. We must find ways to build strong bridges that will take us where we were before."

Southern Africa's cities under pressure

Machel asserted that one of the root causes of the violence was the influx of foreigners into South African cities, coupled with the migration of South Africans themselves to cities from the countryside; add the recent increases in food prices to this enormous pressure on urban infrastructure and you get an explosive mixture. "The poorest South African suburbs no longer have the capacity to absorb more people. It's no longer possible to live there," she said.

Machel blamed this situation on the development models that governments have adopted. If in the past, Southern Africa was divided by colonialism and apartheid, she said, today it is divided by poverty. "Extreme poverty dehumanizes people and leads them to madness," she said. "The hatred and intolerance displayed were aimed against the conditions they are living in. People were opposing the sub-human conditions in which they live."

Jody Kollapen, head of the South African Human Rights Commission, told IPS that it was essential to bring the perpetrators of the heinous crimes seen over the past few weeks to justice. He added that a candid debate on reparations is also needed. But for this to be successful, it will need to include a plan for reintegration plan supported by financial assistance to enable the victims of xenophobia to start afresh. But such a plan will need to take poor South Africans into account, so as not to foster resentment amongst people in almost equally desperate need of assistance.

Mozambican President Armando Guebuza has called on his fellow citizens to show tolerance and refrain from retaliation against South Africans. Speaking to the returnees at a transit centre, Guebuza described the xenophobic attacks in South Africa as the work of people opposed to regional integration, which should lead to complete freedom of movement of people and goods throughout the Southern African Development Community (SADC ) region. "We shall continue on the path of solidarity and unity", he said, "but we must never opt for violence, since we know very well what is the price of violence."

Some of the returnees told Guebuza they wanted to return to South Africa as soon as conditions allowed. But others have been so badly shaken, they have decided to stay in Mozambique permanently. Although uneasy calm prevails in South Africa at the moment, Catarina Manungo would rather brave the cold and harsh winter buffeting her exposed tent than risk a return to her home in Boksburg. "It's better to sleep in a tent under a tree than to return for God knows what."

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