Africa, Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, Migration & Refugees

RIGHTS-SOUTH AFRICA: When the Goal Is Peace

Davison Makanga

CAPE TOWN, Jul 23 2009 (IPS) - Delivering his first state of the nation address in June 2009, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma described sport as ‘a unifying force’ that people must use to live together.

'As Africans we are coming together.' - Kanana FC player, Mayde Mlambo (left), and manager, Thembelani Dumo Credit:  Davison Makanga/IPS

'As Africans we are coming together.' - Kanana FC player, Mayde Mlambo (left), and manager, Thembelani Dumo Credit: Davison Makanga/IPS

A social soccer club in Cape Town’s informal settlement of Masiphumelele is taking his challenge seriously: Kanana Football Club has recruited foreigners as a gesture of goodwill and harmony.

The move is particularly significant following a wave of xenophobia that engulfed the settlement and similar communities across South Africa in 2008.

Watching a training session at the club’s patchy training ground, the players’ high spirits seem to defy the makeshift bumpy pitch. Thembelani Dumo, co-founder and chairman of the club, says the move to invite foreigners to play for their team was a conscious choice to set an example to other soccer clubs in their social league as well to communities most affected by xenophobia.

“We stay in the same neighbourhood and the same street, Kanana. We came up with the idea. It sounded good and we just thought of giving it a chance,” said Dumo.

We will kill you

Harmony-building like the Kanana Football Club's efforts in Masiphumelele settlement is desperately lacking in communities elsewhere in Cape Town. In townships like Khayelitsha and Gugulethu, life is still hell for some African migrants.

John Kwigwasa and Rajab Ramazani, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, were shot and injured in an alleged hate attack by locals when they attempted to reintegrate in Gugulethu.

"I was attacked by four men, they just pulled their gun and said siyakhubulala (we will kill you), and they then shot me in the leg," recounted Kwigwasa.

Kwigwasa now lives helplessly at a refugee camp Blue Waters, situated in Khayelitsha together with his wife and two daughters as well as some 400 migrants who are also fearful of reintegrating. However, life has not been easy at the camp. The City of Cape Town has cut food and power supplies to the location it wants disbanded. The city has also sought a High Court order to dismantle the remaining refugee camp.

Asaadi Abdullahi, leader of refugees at the camp, has lambasted the city’s move. He says life has become unbearable since the withdrawal of food supplies.

"We are hungry, there is nothing here, and we are really suffering. We are living like birds that just fly and find food elsewhere," said Abdullahi.

The City of Cape Town however maintains that the refugees should be integrating into their former communities, an option dismissed by Abdullahi as impossible.

"We just want to be repatriated to our country of origin or the United Nations should come up with a proper plan to take us somewhere if they can not repatriate us," added Abdullahi.

At play in the promised land

Formed in 2008, the 28-member club is mainly comprised of unemployed youths. It aims to keep young people away from criminal activities as well as discouraging behaviour that promotes HIV infection.

Kanana FC was the first team in its league to recruit foreigners in December 2208. Although other clubs initially questioned the idea, Dumo says they have begun emulating Kanana’s model. He cites teams in high-density areas such as Du Noon and Mitchell’s Plain as examples.

“Some teams have seen how we are doing it and now they do not have that attitude towards foreigners, it’s clear even within our team,” adds Dumo.

The assertion is reflected by lanky Sifiso Skroba, one Kanana FC’s midfielders. Skroba says through interaction at daily training sessions, he now regards migrants from elsewhere in Africa as equals.

“They are our brothers, I don’t have any problem socialising with them, and this is the way we should live as Africans,” said Skroba.

Kanana, the name of the street where most of the team’s players live, is the Xhosa language version of the biblical Canaan – the Promised Land. The name is only slowly living up to its promise for Zimbabwean migrant Peter Mutivi, who now plays for the team.

Mutivi says he now feels more welcome in a community that exploded during the anti-migrant attacks in 2008. The father of three moved to South Africa with his family five years ago and scratches out a living from scarce contract jobs as a labourer. The slow-talking Mutivi’s countenance lights up when asked about his experiences since joining Kanana FC.

“I feel great; there is a sense of togetherness in playing football. You socialise with different people and now South Africans appreciate us because they now know that we want to contribute something to the community,” said Mutivi.

Equally at home is another Zimbabwean, Mayde Mlambo, who says the hype around the hosting of the soccer World Cup tournament by South Africa next year will play a major role in bonding communities like his.

“Everyone is just excited about 2010 and as Africans we are coming together,” Mlambo said.

Positive impact

Dumo is proud of how in a short period, Kanana FC has managed to change attitudes in his community. He says the team is gradually realising its goal of yielding results away from the soccer field.

“They (foreigners) now feel at home, and even during some social functions, they are free to contribute.”

The integration-building in Masiphumelele dovetails with what civic organisations such as the Social Justice Coalition have been working to achieve. Project officer Anele Wonde told IPS that change is slowly being realised in some communities.

She however urges the government to denounce xenophobia more forcefully.

“Xenophobia attacks are costing our country, what we are saying is that the government needs to stand up and address the nation that it is wrong and shameful,” said Wonde.

Wonde says research conducted by her organisation revealed that poor service delivery was a major factor that triggered violent attacks last year. “People were frustrated because of little service delivery in the country, so the government needs to step up.”

According to the South African Police Service, six of the 50 xenophobia cases reported last year in Western Cape Province were successfully tried. Of the six, two got suspended imprisonment sentences while four will serve five years in jail.

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