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Africa Day in Cape Town: contradictory images of a continent

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Africa Day in Cape Town: contradictory images of a continent

by Martin Pollack
26 May 2008
City of Cape Town
City of Cape Town

Since the start of xenophobic violence on Thursday night, about 10000 people have been displaced in Cape Town.


The City of Cape Town, in partnership with welfare agencies, is providing food, shelter and assistance to 8 700 of the refugees. A further 1 300 are being sheltered by churches.

The City's first priority is to secure the safety of all people who have been threatened or displaced. It is indeed a contradictory way to celebrate Africa Day – 25 May – noted Executive Mayor Helen Zille.

"On the one hand we see marauding gangs sowing a reign of terror, not only in South Africa against foreign nationals, but in Zimbabwe, by a government against its own people.

"On the other hand we see many costly advertisements to "celebrate" Africa day, some of which border on the sentimental, as we recite the tired old mantras that are usually used when we want to mask our failures.

Ubuntu is one of the world's most important philosophies, but is also one of the most fundamentally misunderstood, noted Zille. "Most often it is interpreted with a kind of sloppy and superficial sentimentality, which is actually a perversion of the real concept.

"Ubuntu is NOT a feeling. It is a commitment to do the hard work required and make the sacrifices necessary to ensure the growth and development of other people.

"It involves a commitment to the truth, it involves the capacity to take responsibility, it involves exceptional discipline and good judgement," she said.

And so it happened that on this Africa Day, instead of all South Africans working together for the growth and development of other people, the City's Disaster Management Centre could be found working to build Safety Sites for displaced people and refugees.

At the Safety Sites, displaced people can receive basic accommodation and support, with law enforcement officers present to ensure that they are safe.

The temporary Safety Sites also provide:
  • Safety and security
  • Temporary accommodation in marquee tents
  • Three meals a day
  • Blankets
  • Clothing
  • Health services
  • Toilets and washing facilities
  • Drinking water
  • Transport
  • The presence of officials from the Department of Home Affairs to assist in tracking or replacing lost documents
The City of Cape Town is committed to providing safe havens for all affected people during this crisis, and to facilitate their safe return to their communities as quickly and seamlessly as possible.

On Africa Day, Executive Mayor Helen Zille thanked the many Capetonians who volunteered to assist with this crisis, either with their time or with donations.

She also paid tribute to Minister of Defence, Mosouia Lekota, "who was the only national Minister who actively assisted the relief efforts in Cape Town. He responded quickly and efficiently when we called on him to open Youngsfield military base when we needed it for relief efforts," she said.

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