On Saturday 7 September 2019 while certain parts of South Africa were experiencing or recovering from the horrifying incidents of xenophobia and sexual gender based violence (SGBV), the Jesuit Social Apostolate in South Africa and Africa Unite, a local human rights NGO, hosted a community dialogue in De Doorns.
De Doorns is a township about 140 kilometres from Cape Town in the Cape Winelands District. It is apparently the centre of export grape growing region surrounded by about 200 grape farms which make them the main employers and source of income for the community. The township straddles the main highway between Cape Town and Johannesburg. It is a very poor community comprised of mainly IsiXhosa and Sesotho speakers, coloureds, non-nationals, most of whom come from Lesotho and Zimbabwe. In previous years there have been violent protests for lack of service-delivery, lack of jobs and poor working conditions, particularly in the wine farms.
The aim of the dialogue – attended by community leaders, the youth, farm workers, and non-nationals- was primarily to quell any ideas of scapegoating or potential violence during this turbulent period in South Africa where there are sporadic attacks on migrants from other countries. To achieve its objective, the dialogue focused not only on pertinent issues and challenges faced by the community but also in a non-threatening manner, dealt with controversial matters of mutual interest. The dialogue was partly facilitated by the youth who were trained in human rights by Africa Unite and are now peer educators.
During the dialogue issues affecting the Youth who apparently make up 70% of the community were discussed. One of the major disquieting challenge with the youth in this community is the lack of a Youth Centre where activities for young people can be carried out. This was identified as a major problem as many young people loiter the streets and are susceptible to many social ills including drug abuse, rape and SGBV. There was a serious and disturbing lamentation that the absence of a Youth Centre and developmental activities to keep them off the streets will only perpetuate the cycle of poverty and criminality.
SGBV in this community is one of the highlighted concerns. The Police are perceived to be unable or unwilling to deal unfalteringly with SGBV cases brought to their attention. In a country where violence against women is rife and has been labelled as femicide, it was worrying to hear that the police are still not held accountable for their lack of effective response to cases of gender based violence.
Regarding migration issues, the community leaders, both South African and non-South Africans, identified the corruption at the borders as part of the main problem. They are convinced that if the Department of Home Affairs were to eradicate corruption at the borders, many of the problems including xenophobia, would be resolved.
The Department of Labour was also found wanting as they are not visible in the farm areas. Consequently, the farmers unscrupulously continue to abuse particularly the undocumented and seasonal farm labourers. In some instances, we were told, farmers make asylum-seekers and migrants pay for the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) but they never benefit from that scheme.
At the end of the discussions it was decided that the community as whole need to organise itself. This will include among other things, the formation of a community forum in which representatives from both South Africans and non-nationals will be represented. It will also endeavour to have the local municipality officials involved. Hopefully there will be a concerted and coordinated effort to tackle socio-economic challenges of De Doorns without resorting to violence and xenophobic attacks.