Africa witness

People’s voice

Archive for March 2011

Cape Town’s neglected elders left to feed in trash bags

leave a comment »

Joseph is living a terrible life on the streets of Bellville near Cape Town. He sleeps under the cold bridge and at times feeds from trash bags.

By Hassan Isilow
A neglected old man is living a terrible life on the streets of Bellville. He sleeps under the cold bridge and at times feeds from trash bags.
The senior citizen seen here has been living on the streets of Bellville for several years and there is little hope that the City of Cape Town’s Displaced Peoples Unit (DPU) will find him suitable shelter.
When I approached the homeless elder on Wednesday evening, he was busy begging for money from commuters disembarking off trains at the Bellville station.
He only identified himself as Joseph. He told me, he came to Cape Town several years ago to look for employment, but when he failed to secure a job, he ended up as a vagrant on the streets.
“I started sleeping in abandoned buildings and later, on the streets, together with other people with similar problems like mine,” Joseph said in a voice that gave away his frailty, an indication that he had little to eat for days.
He refused to disclose any information about his family, or the exact location where he came from before ending up on the streets.
Now a familiar figure in the area, Joseph draws more than one sympathetic eye.
“I feel pity for this old man, because his hand is crippled and one of his feet is dislocated. He can not manage street life,” said Tabisa, a female fruit vendor at the Bellville train station.
She thinks the old man could also be suffering from a mental illness.
“He will tell you one story now, but next time you meet, he tells you another version,” she related.
She requested the City of Cape Town’s Displaced Peoples Unit (DPU), to step and help the elderly man.
“It is very shameful to see such an old man, fit to be our grand parent, living a pathetic life on the streets. The authorities should intervene and help,” she appealed.

Feeding on garbage

Meanwhile Joseph said he coped by asking people for money to buy food.

“At times I don’t get money, so I resort to checking the garbage bins where I pick leftovers and feed on them,” he revealed.

Asked if the DPU had ever approached him to help, Joseph refuses to answer this question. He instead, asks for a handout to buy food and upon receiving the money, his interest in the interview is over. He says, he is tired, and can not speak any more.
Meanwhile, last week, the City of Cape Town’s Displaced Peoples Unit managed to re-integrate a woman who had spent most of her life on the streets of Cape Town.
Susan Benette had been living out of an industrial plastic bag on the sidewalk of Main Road in Claremont for the last 25 years.
According to Wayne Aldridge, the principal inspector at DPU, they had tried to assist Benette in the past during numerous operations, but she was never willing to accept their assistance.
However, last week Benette decided to accept their offer to move her from the streets and is currently residing in the Kensington Haven Night Shelter. DPU has promised investigate Joseph’s story.


Written by africawitness

March 31, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Posted in Xenophobia

Migration Bill worries migrants

leave a comment »

Journalist Hassan Isilow speaking to Mr. Abdullahi a Somali Refuggee about the newly enacted Bill.

By Hassan Isilow

Migrants have expressed shock at some clauses contained in the newly passed Refugee Amendment Bill, which is expected to streamline the application process for those seeking asylum in the country.

However in the refugee community it is believed that the bill is aimed at reducing the numbers of refugees and migrants from flocking into South Africa.

The Bill passed in parliament last week after receiving a majority endorsement from MP’s, contains a clause which calls for long jail terms for migrants who claim to be genuine refugees when they in fact are not. This clause has caused grave concern among migrants.

“I don’t know what will happen to me. I’m from Nigeria, but I recorded my case at Home Affairs as being from Ivory Coast. I’m now very afraid that I could be jailed if officials found out the truth,” one migrant from West Africa, speaking to AW News on condition of anonymity, confided.

The comment came after Home Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini recently introduced penalties for refugees and asylum seekers who did not renew their permits on time. Those who fail to renew permits on time are arrested, taken to court and charged a penalty of R2, 500, while those who falsely claim to be refugees could face a jail term of up to 10 years.

Last month over 30 Somali refugees were arrested at the Maitland Refugee reception center and prosecuted for not renewing their papers on time.

The minister introduced the new measures after realizing that some migrants were abusing the refugee status. According to Home Affairs sources, some refugees are alleged to have submitted more than two application forms, which mean they have obtained more than one permit.

“I think this Bill will limit the rights of refugees from appealing against refugee reject decisions normally issued by Home Affairs officials,” Dahir Ali, a Somali refugee and B.Com student at UNISA told AW News. He added that before the new Bill was passed, refugees were given an opportunity to appeal if Home Affairs rejected their asylum application.

Ali believes the new Bill will lead to deportation of many vulnerable people. He said many genuine refugees could also be denied entry at the border posts, since the new Bill gives immigration officials power to scrutinize applicants in order to determine who are genuine refugees before they are allowed entry into the country.

“According to my understanding, this Bill will create a huge backlog at entry points, with refugees spending many nights at border posts, because there are usually few immigration officials working at there,” Ali predicted.

Fatima Khan, director of the UCT refugee law clinic concurred to some extent, saying that the new Bill favors the rich at the expense of the vulnerable. She doubted if immigration officials at the border posts have adequate qualifications to differentiate between genuine refugees and bogus applicants. “The new Bill is nothing but cruel,” she said.

However, some local South Africans have welcomed the amended Bill, saying it will reduce the influx of foreigners in the country, who have been competing with them for the few available resources. “This is a very good Bill, which will help us from unnecessary competition from foreigners,” Moses Vilakazi, a resident of Mufuleni township said.


However, according to Dlamini-Zuma, the current legislation was being amended to so that those who were genuinely seeking asylum were not subjected to long protracted processes. At the same time, the department also wants to be firm with those who were not refugees but abused the asylum system.

“The amendments being proposed will therefore establish committees that adjudicate applications from asylum seekers. This is currently done by junior officials sometimes working alone. In addition, applicants whose applications are found to be without merit although they conform to the internationally recognised reasons for the granting of asylum, will be able to appeal the decision of the committee,” the Minister said last week.

Applications that did not fall within the parameters of internationally recognised reasons for asylum would be reviewed by the Director-General and if the Director-General agreed with the findings of the committee, the applicant would be deported. The amendments will also allow for the child born to an asylum seeker to be registered in terms of the Births and Deaths Registration Act, provided the birth certificate is submitted at a Refugee Reception Office in order to have that child included as a dependent of the asylum seeker or refugee.

“It is the firm conviction of the department that this Bill, once ascended into law, will ensure South Africa upholds its commitment to human rights, as well as its international obligations, while protecting the dignity of all those who seek refugee and safety upon our shores,” the minister added.

©Rights VOC/AW News:

Written by africawitness

March 28, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Posted in Xenophobia

A Journey of hope

leave a comment »

A tired and frail looking Mohammed Ali, poses for a photograph shortly after his arrival in Cape Town last week. He was among several Somali refuggees who successfully managed to cross into South Africa. Photo Hassan Isilow

By Hassan Isilow
Over 100 Somali refugees crumbled on to a small wooden ship, from Mombasa Kenya en-route to the shores of Mozambique, where they would latter “jump” over the South African boarder. A tired and frail looking Mohammed Ali, seen here after his arrival in Cape Town last week, was among those who successfully managed to cross into South Africa.

The 16-year-old, who had endured a four day travel on the sea, said entering South Africa felt like entering paradise. “I’m so happy to have successfully reached my destination. In South Africa, there is peace, democracy and human rights,” the excited teenager told Africa Witness, outside a home of a good Samaritan who is currently helping him with food and accommodation.

Mohammed said he was lucky to have left Somalia alive, because many civilians are killed there on a daily basis during cross fires between Islamic militia’s and government forces. He is not the only one to seek safe harbour in SA. “I’m told there are many criminals in South Africa, but I will endure them. It is better than being killed by insurgents in Mogadishu,” said Yusuf Roble, another new immigrant currently employed in a Somali owned shop in Mfuleni.

Many people are curious why Somali refugees travel so far to seek asylum in South Africa – a country with its own challenges – while there are many other African countries like Kenya and Uganda willing to accept refugees.
Dahir Ali, a Bachelor of Commerce student at UNISA, explained that many Somali refugees prefer South Africa over the other countries.

Why South Africa?

“It’s easy for refugees to start up small businesses in South Africa, compared to other African countries where asylum seekers are kept in refugee camps and their movements restricted. He said South Africa was heaven for most refugees because of its liberal immigration policies that allow refugees to seek employment and study if they did not start businesses.

According to Ali, many Somali refugees are impressed with the South African legal system. “Unlike in other African countries were refugees have no equal rights with citizens, here the legal system is fair for all those who live in the country.” The student, who has been in South Africa for two years, also has high praise for the country’s justice system, saying that once a refugee is arrested, he is not automatically deported, but given a fair trial.

Why Cape Town?

Over the last few years, the influx of refugee into the Western Cape, compared to other provinces, increased significantly. Okaparo Okocha, a Nigeria businessman, in the Cape Town CBD, said people in the mother city and the entire Western Cape region, were more hospitable to migrants. “People in the Western Cape are more understanding. They are friendly compared to those in Gauteng and other regions, which has lead to the influx of refugees in the region,” he explained.

Martin Mazibuko, a Zimbabwean migrant, said it was also easier to get employment in the Western Cape compared to other regions. “Here most employers look at your credentials and what you can offer in terms of skills, but in other provinces employers look at your nationality,” the professional teacher now turned photographer explained.

But Dahir Ali, who also holds a Bachelors degree in Business Administration from Mogadishu University disagrees. “It’s very challenging to find employment in the Western Cape, no matter how qualified you are.”

He said there were fewer job opportunities in Western Cape compared to Gauteng region where he previously worked. “If you went out for a month looking for a job in Gauteng, I’m certain you would find one, but in the Western Cape, you could search a whole year without finding a job.”

Copy rights© VOC/Africawitness

Written by africawitness

March 15, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Posted in Xenophobia

Mubarak’s Ghost haunts Mugabe in Zimbabwe

leave a comment »

In the good old days, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe chats to ejected Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak

By Hassan Isilow

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has reportedly been acting in fear ever since his friend, Hosni Mubarak, was forced to resign last month, a leading Zimbabwean journalist has told African Witness.
Wilf Mbanga, Editor of The Zimbabwean newspaper, said ever since pro-democracy protests started in Egypt, Mugabe’s ZANUPF party activists started to intimidate opposition supporters whom they anticipated would protest against Mugabe’s 30 year-old rule.
“Mugabe has been acting very nervously of late. He has deployed security in the streets. Last week his ZANUPF activists also looted shops owned by foreigners in Harare. I assume he is doing all this to intimidate the opposition and silence civil society organizations that he thinks might revolt against his regime,” Mbanga said during telephone interview.
“We condemn in the strongest of terms the ZANUPF-led looting of shops owned by foreigners in Harare last Monday. As a party in government, they must realize they have obligations to look after not only the country’s citizens, but all our guests as well,” the London-based editor and publisher of Zimbabwe’s leading newspaper in the Diaspora said.
He added that if Mugabe’s party does not want foreigners doing business in Zimbabwe, there are legal ways of stopping them. He said the party could bring in legislation to that effect, but not force the closing of such shops by looting. “What happened on Monday does not help the indigenization process, neither does it send a positive signal to potential investors concerning the security of future business ventures in Zimbabwe,” Mbanga said.
Nine years ago Mugabe’s cronies grabbed prime commercial farms for themselves, disproving Mugabe’s claim that he was dispossessing white farmers for peasant resettlement. Mugabe’s indigenization policy was one of the reasons why Zimbabwe was sanctioned by major world powers. Although Mugabe has repeatedly justified his land seizure programme as rectifying colonial injustices, several of his henchmen and cronies have reportedly cherry-picked the best farms for themselves.
According to Mbanga, it seems that ZANUPF is “confused” about what is good for the country. He said Mugabe’s party has been encouraging foreigners to invest in Zimbabwe, while at the same time organizing demonstrations against them and looting their property.
This is indeed double-speak – for which ZANUPF is well known. The same tactic is used when the party publicly condemns violence, and Mugabe says he wants peace in our country – yet his henchmen threaten war and his thugs thrash people,” he said.
When asked if Zimbabweans could follow the Egyptian route of forcing their undemocratic leader into resigning, Mbanga said his countrymen were not ready to take the risk. The 86-year-old Mugabe has been ruling Zimbabwe since 1981. It is estimated that up to 3 million Zimbabweans are currently living in exile as a result of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis and repressive regime.

Written by africawitness

March 7, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Posted in Xenophobia

Islam and Racism

leave a comment »

A group of Muslim students at a Koran school in Tete Mozambique pose for a picture( Photo Hassan Isilow) Special thanks to SANZAF who sponsored my trip.

By Hassan Isilow

Despite the belief that all Muslims belong to a single brother/sisterhood, some Black Muslims in South Africa are complaining that their Asian Muslim counterparts discriminate against them at both mosques and places of work.

“For a long time, I have felt very uncomfortable in the way Muslims of Asian origin treat me, both inside the prayer and the work place,” said Ali Musa, a Malawian national working at a farm in Johannesburg.

The Muslim migrant who is in his late 20’s said Asian Muslims always avoid standing next to him during congregation prayers at the farm’s Jamaat Khana (small mosque). As a result, Ali now prefers praying in the last row of the mosque. He asked Africawitness not to photograph him or mention the name of the company he works for, because he fears being victimized by his employer.

Hudu Mwinyi, a Black Muslim migrant from Tanzania, tells Africawitness that he is stunned by the racism he encounters within the multi-racial South African Muslim community. “Whenever I go to the mosque, Asian Muslims ask me which year I embraced Islam. This question is very disturbing, because I was born a Muslim,” Mwinyi related.

He further accuses Asian Muslims of not responding to his Muslim greetings, adding that whenever he greets them in Arabic, they never respond. Mwinyi thinks this might be because they assume he wants to beg for money. He is not alone in this view.

“Things are now improving, but when we first arrived in Mayfair in the late 90’s, some Asian Muslim brothers never wanted to stand next to us during salaah(prayers),” Adamou Okoca, a Nigerian businessman in Johannesburg revealed. He said during that time, black Muslims were known for “having smelly socks”, so Asian worshipers avoided standing next to them.

“Some black Muslim migrants were reported to have had smelly socks, so this news spread in all mosques in Gauteng, which lead to the stereotyping of all black Muslims, irrespective of whether your are South African or foreign,” Adamou said. However, things are now improving between Black Muslims and the Asian Muslim community who are now working together to build Islam and improve its image post 9/11.


Sikander Mohammed, an official with the Islamic Information Services of South Africa and an Indian himself, said he regularly receives such reports. “It’s true that incidents of racism do exist in our society, but it is minimal,” he explained, adding that most of those responsible for such behaviour were ignorant of the teachings of Islam.

Johannesburg-based academic, Na’eem Jeenah, said true African Muslims were at the receiving end of racist treatment.

“Are African Muslims at the receiving end of racist treatment as many allege? I would say they are. One of the most obvious examples is that of language. How many Muslims still use words like ‘kariah’, ‘kaffir’ or ‘darkies’ when talking about African people – Muslim and non-Muslim?” he asked in a column he wrote for Al-Qalam.

According to Jeenah, dependency was a cause for the ill treatment of some Black Muslims by their Asian counterparts. “One of the main faults, in my opinion, of many within the African Muslim community is dependence. As if African Muslims cannot survive unless Indian Muslims do something for them. Such a feeling of entitlement stems from a sense of dependency,” he wrote.

He noted that dependency was not only in terms of material things, but also relates to legitimacy. As such, he said, it was surprising that African Muslims wanted to be “recognised” by the Asians as being Muslims. “Recognised as Muslims??? Once a person takes shahadah and has faith in her/his heart, why does such a person need to be given ‘recognition’ by some group of Indian (or any other) Muslims? Why this dependence for legitimacy?” he questioned.

He related the case of the now defunct Voice radio in Johannesburg who organised mass iftaar (breaking of Muslim fast) in different mosques. One Saturday was reserved for the Soweto mosque, but to their surprise, the Imam of this mosque called to cancel the offer they had extended to his mosque. While the reason he provided was that the station’s music policy, the reality was that he had feared retribution from his Indian bosses whom he depended on for legitimacy.


Jeenah also mentions the lack of perseverance as another factor affecting the development of human resource among the Black South African Muslim community. He quotes the case a few years ago when a group of young Muslims went to Sudan to study Islam. Most of them were Africans and many returned home before they had finished even a year of their studies.

He said the Black SA Muslim students couldn’t live with the difficult conditions they found in Sudan. On the other hand, there was a student from a rich Indian family, who stuck it out and finished his studies. He said due to the luck of perseverance, the Black South African Muslim community had lost the opportunity for increasing the number of African ulama.

Jeenah suggested that in order to address some of the problems mentioned above there is a need to build bridges between the different Muslim communities. “Perhaps the simplest thing for individuals are to begin with social contact; visiting each other, sharing meals, time and space. And at a community level an idea could be for more well-off communities to ‘twin’ with those not as advantaged,” he advised.
He quotes the example where mosques twin, assist and learn from each other. On breaking the dependency syndrome Jeenah said zakah should not be used to provide handouts, but to assist in socio-economic development. To read his full column follow this link
Copy rights reserved.

Written by africawitness

March 5, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Posted in Xenophobia

%d bloggers like this: