The big question coming out of all the centres of refuge for “foreigners” displaced by xenophobic violence in and around police stations, civic centres and churches is where do we go from here?

What plans are on the table to protect, sustain and eventually reintegrate into the community some 30 000 (and growing) displaced people, many of whom have been here for years and have long since made South Africa their home.

We received no answer to this question and certainly no government plans to achieve reintegration in the face of a major humanitarian catastrophe were on offer yesterday, when as part of a Parliamentary investigating team I visited four of the sites of xenophobic violence around Gauteng. Kicking off in Alexandra we proceeded to Tembisa and Reiger Park. The reason I was part of the group is that a section of Alex falls into my designated constituency area and in a council ward (Ward 91) which the DA won in 2006, so we have a direct responsibility.

Local government representatives and representatives of community organisations, who have been run ragged helping to provide food and clothing for the refugees posed this question. The Crisis Committee in Germiston where over 11 000 refugees are being cared for, told us they had provisions only until 2 June.

But it’s not only a matter of material survival. If these displaced fellow Africans are to be reintegrated, government will have its work cut out to persuade particularly the poorer communities to have them back. The police reported to us that local shack dwellers are unrepentant. We were told at Reiger Park that the burnt shacks of foreigners at Ramphosa squatter settlement had already been cleared and new shacks were being built on the sites by locals, for themselves.

Some of my impressions are as follows:
After a two hour session at police headquarters at Alexandra also involving community groups and local councillors, it seems that all parties believe there was a certain amount of orchestration and planning behind the violence that started on Sunday 11th May in a section of Alex known as “Beirut,” which is dominated politically by the IFP and residentially by hostel dwellers. After a residents’ meeting in the afternoon the violence started at 20:00 that evening. We gained a different impression at Tembisa, and the other centres where the violence was more in the nature of opportunistic copy-cat incidents of crime which nevertheless has done enormous damage.

While the police were caught napping when the violence broke out, being ill equipped and under-resourced, they have quickly caught up and it is clear that with the assistance of the SANDF the violence is under control. At the same time it must be acknowledged that the SAPS, with the assistance of local public reps and community organisations have been magnificent in the way they have afforded places of refuge for the victims. We visited halls and tented camps where the victims had been made as comfortable as possible with adequate ablution and cooking facilities for the short term.

South African civil society has opened its heart and given generously. Government, it seems, has yet to wake up to the enormous task in hand of reintegrating our fellow Africans who have made their home in our country in the poor urban settlements.


  • Sheila Camerer has been a member of South Africa's Parliament since 1987. She has worked as deputy minister of justice, leader in the National Assembly of the now-defunct New National Party and a member of the Judicial Service Commission. After the demise of the NNP she has worked as justice and foreign affairs spokesperson for the Democratic Alliance, among other roles in the party. She is now a member of parliamentary portfolio committees on justice and constitutional development, constitutional review, foreign affairs and others.


Sheila Camerer

Sheila Camerer has been a member of South Africa's Parliament since 1987. She has worked as deputy minister of justice, leader in the National Assembly of the now-defunct New National Party and a member...

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