You are on the TAC legacy website. Please visit our new website: www.tac.org.za

Health and Human Rights Groups Condemn Cape Town Mayor Helen Zille for Promotion of Internment Camps

  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /usr/www/users/tacaor/public_site/community/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 879.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_argument::init() should be compatible with views_handler::init(&$view, $options) in /usr/www/users/tacaor/public_site/community/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_argument.inc on line 745.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter::options_validate() should be compatible with views_handler::options_validate($form, &$form_state) in /usr/www/users/tacaor/public_site/community/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 589.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter::options_submit() should be compatible with views_handler::options_submit($form, &$form_state) in /usr/www/users/tacaor/public_site/community/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 589.
Printer-friendly versionSend to friendPDF version

(Cape Town, South Africa, 27 May 2008)—the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), AIDS Law Project (ALP) and the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) jointly condemn Helen Zille, the Mayor of Cape Town, for her continued insistence on setting up internment camps in remote locations throughout the Cape Town Metro area to deal with the thousands of people displaced by xenophobic violence and harassment over the past two weeks.

Based on sound principles of public health and human rights as well as accepted procedures for the management of displaced persons, we are calling for all individuals to be sheltered as close to where they originally resided, so that they can be near their regular health facilities, schools and places of employment. Furthermore, we believe that seeking local solutions for displaced persons can foster voluntary reintegration into communities, which exile to internment camps far from their original homes will simply make more difficult. Additionally, filling up camps with thousands of people in close proximity is a severe infectious disease risk for diarrhoea, tuberculosis, and other serious infection. Finally, setting up a parallel system of public services in the internment camps, including health and sanitation, is inefficient and will create further stress on normal provision of these services around the city and the province.

We call on Cape Town Mayor Helen Zille and Western Cape Premier Ebrahim Rasool to work together to ensure that displaced persons find shelter as close to their original homes as possible, by opening all public facilities under the jurisdiction of the city and the province to temporarily house these individuals as the first step towards community reintegration. The groups are also calling for additional resources to be made available to promote reintegration of displaced persons and their access to essential services as well as to protect their health, safety and well-being. If these demands are not met TAC, ALP and ARASA will consider legal action to ensure that the internment camps are shut down and their inhabitants reintegrated into their local communities of origin in a timeous manner.

Contact:
Zackie Achmat, TAC: +27-83-467-1152 (evenings)
Gregg Gonsalves, ARASA, +27-78-456-3848 (days)

Comments

I think this issue is more nuanced

In general, I support the idea of people being housed close to their previous homes, for the reasons set out in the TAC press release.

On the other hand, the camps do honestly seem to be preferred by some people. I saw an example of this today: we were trying to persuade a resident of Soetwater to move her family to a place we had found for them in a church hall with better facilities, trauma counselling, etc etc (we are involved with her child's school). She was very clear that she preferred Soetwater: partly because she felt safer in a large group a long way from the nearest South African community, and partly because she hopes the UN or other well-funded body will repatriate her, and she believes there is more chance of this happening if she is part of a large, visible group.

She may or may not be right. I think the important thing is to recognise that the choice is hers. The possibility of staying in a camp is one thing. Coercion is quite another.

The management of the camp was dreadful, though. People trying to get access yesterday were told there was no more room (not really true). However, there was no information on which camps or other facilities did have room, or any transport available for reaching them. There has been no hot food, no fires. There are twelve bungalows on the property which remain locked for some unfathomable reason. There is also no co-ordination of needs. The whiteboard in the camp says 'clothes, shoes, umbrellas', but with no indication of how many, and there doesn't seem to be communication with other refugees to share resources or information.

It would be relatively inexpensive to provide shuttle services to the nearest taxi route, so that people could go to work or school. Again, nothing happening.

As presently run, Soetwater does not solve a problem, it simply puts it out of sight.

Helen Zille was quoted in The Cape Times a couple of days ago as saying that displaced people should not go to church halls, because these are needed for other purposes 'like weddings.' I hope this quote was wrong or out of context, because it is one of the most stupid things I have ever heard.

The Mayor's language and approach is deeply disturbing

Until recently, despite not being a DA supporter, I had great respect for Helen Zille. But the behaviour I witnessed over the last few days has dismayed me.

On Saturday I sat in a meeting with City of Cape Town and Department of Home Affairs officials, where we discussed registering displaced persons. After reaching consensus that a "standard" (its source is opaque) Home Affairs form would need to be amended in order to ensure that information gathered is not used against displaced people, the Mayor stormed into the meeting and angrily declared that the form would not be altered. She gave us a lecture about how "every government in the world does this sort of thing" and that it is "entirely legitimate to ascertain people's [immigration] status". She declared any civil society organisation unhappy with that "is warmly welcome to excuse themselves". So she insisted on using the crisis to identify undocumented migrants when even the national Department of Home Affairs was willing to put humanitarian concerns first.

Later on Saturday I happened to be in the room when she addressed her disaster management team. She said words very close to the following: "We must all remember that not only refugees (or whatever they are) have rights. Other people have rights too." (Isn't it nice of her to help ensure that City officials and the security forces are not swept up in the general hysteria and start taking the rights of displaced persons too seriously?) She continued: "I have just witnessed a very disturbing incident where migrants behaved extremely abusively and perfectly good food was being thrown around. Some of the food may have been past its sell-by date, but it was good to eat. Local residents are understandably becoming very angry and an explosion will follow unless a serious security force deployment takes place."

These statements (which pre-date the later breakdown of trust between her and the civil society organisations who have largely been doing her and the state's job since the outbreak of this crisis) clearly shows that her attitude is deeply problematic. She apparently views displaced people as the authors of their own problems and the humanitarian crisis as an opportunity to weed out illegal immigrants. Shame on you Helen Zille.

Come with us to the shelters and internment camps

The central question about internment camps is ignored by many people. It is a question about the rule of law.

90% of refugees, immigrants and undocumented migrants are still in our communities. Xenophobic mob violence, or, the threat of violence together with the high-handed and authoritarian approach of the Mayor, the SAPS, Home Affairs and other state agencies circumscribes freedom of movement. It also strips human beings of dignity, freedom, equality and the right to be free from all forms of violence. To allow internment camps (the only choice the mayor would have) is to allow thugs a victory over the vulnerable.

Today, we ethnically cleanse "immigrants and refugees", tomorrow Shangaans, the next day coloureds, the day after lesbians and gays, then Jewish people or maybe Muslims, whites...Indians...Eastern cape Xhosa-speaking people. To allow the removal of people to camps (through the Mayor's choice or the rule of thugs) is to open the road to successful ethnic cleansing.

In all these senses, the rule of law and the Constitution will be undermined by criminals with the assistance of the state. Come with us and speak to the man whose mother was murdered in Burundi, whose father was murdered in Rwanda and who sought protection in our country and now faces brutal and barbaric violence in our country. He does not want to go to the Mayor's camps. We can introduce you to him and countless others. Those who use violent means must not succeed. Camps incentivize the thugs and dehumanize the vulnerable.

Zackie Achmat

Calling them internment camps clarified what they nearly became

This is a very emotive term -- but the city was at one stage undoubtedly heading towards creating places that would have been internment camps in all but name.

I have absolutely no doubt about this, because I heard discussions amongst city officials myself, in person, with my own ears, showing that they were at times considering lockdowns on the camps and sites, for 'security reasons', and that they thought they might end up forcibly removing people from certain locations. At least one of the sites was in fact locked down over Sunday night. What's more, the city wanted to remove people from all the smaller refuges and concentrate them in the camps.

God alone knows what might have happened if people had been handed into the power of our unspeakably corrupt and brutal Home Affairs department for "processing". There is no doubt in my mind at all that this is what would have happened if this emergency had been left to the authorities, and not headed off by the huge civil society response.

TAC used inflammatory language, sure, in this statement. But if it helped clarify the issues, clarified where we might have headed, then it was absolutely warranted, even if it now looks a bit excessive.

As for the politics surrounding the authorities' handling of the response -- well, you have to have your head stuck in the sand not to know that both the ANC and DA have long been at loggerheads in this province. That they could not set aside their differences long enough to deal properly with a humanitarian emergency shows neither really has the interests of ordinary people at heart. I have, at different times, and in different contexts, admired both Zille and Rasool -- but no longer.

It's a cheap shot to level a charge of politicking against TAC. I quite often feel uncomfortable with the militancy of TAC myself -- on the other hand, I do not see ANY less militant organisations fighting as hard or as successfully for the human rights of ordinary South Africans. In this country, unless you are militant, or if you show signs of weakness, you are all too often brutally trampled. As has been amply demonstrated in the last week.

David Le Page, currently TAC volunteer

To anonymous - Or not

What you fail to understand is that the TAC, ALP and ARASA are not saying that these displaced individuals should simply be taken back into the communities from which they have fled - instead these organisations are suggesting "local solutions" that will eventually make voluntary reintegration into communities a whole lot easier.
What you also fail to understand is that the larger part of these displaced individuals actually want to stay, continue to work, go to school and contribute in South Africa. This in itself means that the remoteness of these sites places added strain on these individuals to get to and from work, their schools and, yes, THEIR communities. Your comment that Pofadder is remote is insensitive and smacks of your position of privilege. I assume you think that the handful of employed displaced people - after all your position seems to indicate that these individuals have never been a part of the communities from which they were displaced and can therefore simply be shipped off - can use public transport to get to work. This in itself shows how you've even failed to comprehend the reasons why we face this crisis. These people are scared, even petrified, and you think it's perfectly reasonable for them to get onto our dismal public transport system, which we know all to well has limited security, and commute to work!!!
Lastly, I'm not surprised that you missed the provisions in our Constitution that have bearing on this issue because as pointed out above you missed the part of the statement in which these organisations stated that they aren't calling for immediate reintegration. So you might want to read the press release again, maybe a few times, and you should definitely revisit the preamble, the little bit right at the beginning, to our Constitution that says South Africa belongs TO ALL WHO LIVE IN IT - not to all who hold valid identity documents. You might also want to revisit the sections relating to equality, HUMAN DIGNITY (I can assure you that's rather lacking in a tent on a beach shared with 3000 other people), Freedom of trade occupation and profession and the section that states that everyone, not only citizens, have a right to a basic education. So your homework for today is to try your best to shrug off your position of privilege that allows you to think and argue that these people deserve less than the full potential and promise of our Constitution.

Reply to the reply to the reply

With the massive housing backlog in the Western Cape, it's a miracle that local and provincial government has been able to do as much as they have done. You completely misread the Pofadder reference - not surprising really. The point is that in the original article you've called parts of the Cape Town metro "remote". That's absurd. The only "cheap politicking" around here is the sort of language being used by the TAC. Another great example is the use of the phrase "internment camps"- which you completely ignored in your response, and is a COMPLETE misrepresentation of the situation in those camps - where, as one other commenter pointed out, people have actually been trying to GET IN, rather than get out. The comment bout people being "scared, petrified,... commute to work" commits about three logical fallacies but suffice to say I see no point at which I suggested refugees SHOULD be located far from their place of work - only that's there's a crisis right now and accomodating refugees close to or within the areas they were driven out of in the first place is lunacy. Sure there are problems with the camps as they stand, but the TAC has, it seems, grown accustomed to blaming government first, no matter what the situation. Well, you guys were right about ARVs. You happen to be way way out of your depth here. On the constitutional issue, two words for you: 'Section 36'. As long as there's a housing crisis anyway, you can't force further socioeconomic provisions when an existing programme is already in place. Well, you can try. But you wont succeed. Ask a constitutional lawyer.

SAY IT: UNHCR

Who's talking about housing? Please don't confuse one issue with another. TAC has most definitely not been suggesting that we build another N2 Gateway. Every community, every suburb in this city has halls (yes, they are fully erect and have roofs); community halls, sport centres etc. that can be used to house the displaced individuals. Many of these halls are being used for these purposes across the city - in Nyanga, in Khayelitsha, in Kraaifontein - already. These halls, many of them still empty, despite being in the communities where these individuals have been displaced from, aren't security risks, haven't been security risks and are functioning better than these ludicrous camps!!! Although rubber bullets weren't fired, the fact that the police had to discharge blanks from their weapons in one of these camps should be reason enough to shut them done. Can you imagine being scared, having been chased from your home with your children in tow only to end up in a situation where firearms are being discharged!!!!! Again you might say people have been trying to get into these camps but where else should they go as long as safe and secure halls in their communities remain shut and remain shut with the mayor's consent. You also seem all to happy, over and above everything else, to have these individuals lose their incomes, but let me assure you these people aren't about to let that happen. You might want them to lose their incomes, I'm sure, because then they are more likely to want to return to their countries of origin (not HOME countries). Am I right? Oh and on the Constitutional issue a few words for you: an EXISTING PROGRAMME doesn't and cannot address a NEW CRISIS. As for cheap politicking, that has been the prerogative of the Mayor. Wanting to out do Rasool she has consistently exaggerated her response to this crisis. On Friday night while a group of volunteers along with the TAC were feeding and responding to the needs of families in Cape Town station this city slept. Eventually after TACs persistence the city provided trucks with which to transport these families at 3 in the morning. Where did they transfer them to? To church halls that the TAC had identified and made arrangements with!!! Essentially when this crisis started CT provided trucks to herd people and babies like cattle to safe places that they hadn't organised. Helen Zille, from the outset, which was a good 36 hours after the TAC and ALP responded, claimed that she immediately order for the community halls to be opened to house people. What a blatant lie. The halls were sought out by these people and their needs at the doors facilitated the opening of the doors. Lastly, and them I'm done because you talking about housing in this crisis shouldn't actually warrant a response, the UNHCR which has more experience in these issues than both the mayor's office and the TACs morally superior office (cheap shot I know) combined has said that these camps are a mistake. Why don't you go pick a fight with them? Or does the UNHCR also fall in the 'What self-righteous NGO's should whinge about when they have nothing else to do" camp?

Which "safe and secure halls

Which "safe and secure halls remain shut down with the mayor's consent"?

Let's not be unreasonable

I don't beat any drum for Helen Zille and certainly not the DA. However, calling the camps in which some of the victims of the recent Xenophobic violence are being housed as internment camps is unfair and unreasonable. No one (to the best of my knowledge) has been held in these camps against their will. In fact, yesterday the Cape Town press reported some people (apparently of Somali origin) fighting to get *in* to the camp at Soetwater. I have been involved in supporting people who are housed in churches and some halls near to where I live. Camps (as one of many places where people are now staying) may indeed not be the best option, but they are an option amongst many chosen under immense pressure at short notice.

A representative of the UNHCR is quoted on the front page of this morning's Cape Times as saying that the camps are not a good option. I don't see him quoted anywhere as saying how else to provide help. What is the alternative to camps?

Your primary objection appears to be that the camps are far from where people originally resided (are they?). So, if the camps were closer would they be better?

Lets be real and practical and keep away from cheap politicking which I believe that your use of the term internment camp is.

Problems with the Camps

The camps are problematic for the following reasons:

* Soetwater (the biggest and worst of the camps) and Silverstroom are very far from the city, making it difficult and expensive for people to get to and from work, school etc.

* All the camps are far from the communities where people lived. This makes the extremely hard task of reintegration even harder.

* Some of the camps are in really bad condition. Soetwater is overcrowded, wet and a huge health-risk. There have been serious conflicts in the camp. We have dozens of reports coming in of ill-treatment of the refugees and gross incompetence by the authorities running these places. The state has no expertise in running refugee camps; numerous mistakes are being made.  You can look and listen to the video and sound-clippings on the TAC site to see this.

* The camps have serious potential to become permanent. 

* By sheltering people in community halls, it is much easier for them to get to work, for communities to assist them and the chances of reintegration improves. The health risks are also much easier to contain.

Incidentally, one comment says that people were fighting to get into the camps. The callousness of that remark is breathtaking. Not enough community halls have been opened so many people have absolutely nowhere to go. But the writer who made that comment should also know that the police forced dozens of people sleeping at the station in order to catch a train to JHB to go to the camps. Listen to the soundbites on the site to get a sense of how unhappy people are to be in them.

As for Zille's handling of the entire crisis: while the city has done more than the province, it's response too has been inadequate and incompetent. Zille has engaged in the most disgraceful cheap politicing; both her and Rasool have failed to co-operate with each other during this disaster and I have had enough interaction with them and their aides over the last few days to reach the conclusion that they are both equally to blame.  I will write more about that when I have some time. We deserve better political leaders.