Make Grahamstown a better place for all, say protesters

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Photo by Hanu Louw.

About 100 people gathered in front of the Grahamstown City Hall to protest against the xenophobic violence that has hit the town and surrounding townships for more than a week.

The protest was convened by Voices of the Foreigners’ Wives, an organisation formed in response to the violence. About 20 women who are married to immigrants participated. There was song and prayer from a range of representatives from faith based communities, as well as NGOs and a handful of concerned members of the public.

With most of the immigrant community’s men still taking refuge at an undisclosed location outside of the town more than a week after the attacks sparked by unsubstantiated allegations that an immigrant was involved in “muti” murders, women and children have had to brave a hostile community with little support from the local municipality and the South African Police Service.

“Our government, our councillors, our mayor and our police have failed us tremendously. If they went months before to the communities and stopped the rumours of foreign nationals killing people, none of the shops would have been looted and vandalised. We are so disappointed and we feel hurt. And still they are not coming,” said Barbara-Anne Ali, a wife of a displaced shopkeeper, during an impassioned plea to the crowd gathered around her in solidarity. “They called us today because they knew we were coming here, but it’s too late, They must take action so that Grahamstown can be a better place for all.”

Despite receiving threatening phone calls — demanding the women cease their planned protest action — from representatives of Makana Municipality in the hours leading up to the protest, the event went ahead. The demands of Voices of the Foreigners’ Wives are:

  1. Stop the xenophobic attacks in Grahamstown.
  2. Stop the murder and rape of women in Grahamstown.
  3. Build an economy that creates opportunities for all.
  4. Provide housing and services for all.
  5. Allow our husbands to return to our families.
  6. Stop the rumours about our husbands.
  7. Stop religious discrimination.
  8. Stop councilors from dividing people.

The exodus of immigrants who ran the hundreds of looted spaza shops has resulted in a shortage of affordable goods in Joza and other nearby townships. Despite spending much of the week pamphleteering in various areas in the township, activist Sandiswa Mini said, “Some people are still angry, but [others] want the foreigners back in the community because we are really struggling.” She pleaded for people to stay calm and not listen to “rumours that are lies.”

“Even now, when I was standing here some women walked past shouting, ‘Tell your husbands not to cut us,’ so some of the people are still afraid and angry at the foreigners,” said Mini.

At the time of publication no official response had been given by representatives of Makana Municipality to the protesters or the Voices of the Foreigners’ Wives. No plan has been put forward by authorities to assist with the reintegration of immigrant families. Instead religious leaders have stepped into the breach by organising community meetings to bring peace to the area.

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TOPICS:  Crime Government Immigration

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