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South Africa: ICRC supports local Red Cross in response to urban violence

29-05-2008 Interview

Violence erupted in informal settlements and townships in and around the Gauteng Province in Central South Africa on 11 May 2008. The attacks mainly targeted foreigners from Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Since then, violence has spread to several other provinces leaving tens of thousands displaced, and more than 50 dead.


  Catherine Gendre, ICRC's head of regional delegation in South Africa    
    The South African Red Cross Society (SARCS) immediately took action to support the victims. In this interview, Catherine Gendre, the ICRC's head of the regional delegation in South Africa says the ICRC is supporting relief activities of the SARCS as much as required.


 How has the humanitarian situation developed since the violence started?  


Initially the violence was concentrated on the Gauteng Province with a few thousand displaced after the first two days. The violence, including attacks on individuals as well as looting and rape, spread to neighbouring townships, informal settlements, and then on to other provinces. The current figures we have, after further violence spread last weekend, stands at over 35,000 people displaced and approximately 50 killed and more than 550 injured.

  ©Reuters / S. Sibeiko    
  Women fleeing the informal settlement at Reiger Park    
    The displaced have been forced to fl ee from their homes so fast that most of them have not been able to take any of their belongings with them. Most of them are completely destitute now without food, shelter or access to basic health care. Maybe most terrible is that they have lost all hope of being able to return to their homes. Many of them will probably have to return directly to their countries of origin in the coming days and weeks. Already, between 30,000 and 50,000 have taken buses back to Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

People displaced in the Cape Province are apparently moving to Gauteng Province so there will probably be an influx of people in the coming days. The SARCS is continually doing field assessments and updating us on the situation and needs.

 What has the ICRC been able to do to assist people affected?  


The ICRC is working very closely with the South African Red Cross Society to respond to the situation. We have supported their work in bringing assistance to the displaced, mainly in Gauteng Province, by supplying essential household items. This includes 15,000 blankets for as well as tarpaulins for shelter.

The onset of winter and heavy rains makes the situation very difficult for the displaced and things might deteriorate further. It's cold and they have no shelter and no place to go back to. In the coming days and weeks, further relief items will be supplied to the SARCS. The most vulnerable of the displaced will receive emergency relief materials according to their needs that will be assessed carefully by the local Red Cross branch.

  ©Reuters / S. Sibeiko    
  People seek refuge in Germiston town hall near Johannesburg    
    In addition, the ICRC is helping the SARCS to re-establish contact between separated family members. Some people lost contact with their loved ones while on the run. We need to help them get back in touch. We are also expanding the capacity of the SARCS to deal with the crisis by training the Society’s volunteers in restoring family links and in how to operate more safely in violence-prone areas. We stand ready to give any help that is needed in order to quickly improve the situation of the most vulnerable among the displaced.


 What happens next?  


Right now, getting relief supplies to the most vulnerable people is the priority. But in the longer term, we know there are tens of thousands of people who have been uprooted by the violence, mainly foreigners in South Africa. Most of these have had to flee with few of their possessions. They literally ran to save their lives. Even if the situation calms down over the next few days, these people will require assistance for weeks to come as many have lost their homes, their jobs and their belongings. We will stand by the South African Red Cross, in a joint effort with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), in trying to help where we can.
Read also the news release