remembers the first day of violence in Thokoza township in
May. “I was at home when I heard
that a group of foreigners, including some South Africans,
were being beaten up, robbed and evicted from their houses.
Some of the houses were set alight,” says the Red
Cross volunteer, who was asked to report to the Red Cross
office in Germiston, a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa’s
The situation was grave. In Gauteng Province, more than 60
people were killed and scores injured. More than 35,000 people
were left homeless after mobs burnt and looted homes belonging
to foreigners, many of them migrants from countries such as
the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Mozambique,
Somalia and Zimbabwe. In KwaZulu Natal Province, more than
1,800 homeless people were accommodated at ten police stations
and in community halls belonging to 19 local faith-based organizations.
In the Western Cape Province, about 13,000 people were displaced
when the violence hit Cape Town.
Fear and trauma
In all three provinces, the South African Red Cross Society
was part of the joint operations committee that dealt with
“We heard that hundreds of people had fled from their
houses and sought refuge at the local auditorium,” says
Sethabela. “We visited the premises to conduct a needs
assessment of the displaced people. The number of the displaced
people grew, as workers returned to find their homes looted
Sethabela said he and a team of volunteers helped to distribute
blankets and food parcels to the vulnerable people.
“We worked until very late at night. But we did not
mind because we were helping our fellow human beings.
“Initially, the displaced people were scared of the
local township dwellers. They were not sure whether they would
be attacked. But we regularly spoke to them to rebuild their
trust in us. They also saw we were always willing to help
them. We ended up befriending them.”
South African Red Cross volunteers helped provide essential
services, including cooking facilities and food, trauma counselling
to the grieving, emergency food packs for those returning
to their home countries and psychosocial support. Volunteers
were trained by the ICRC and the International Federation
in the use of ration cards, warehouse management, logistics
and stock control. The ICRC also provided 15,000 blankets
and 2,000 tarpaulins. The response from the public was heartening.
Individuals, companies and institutions donated more than
US$ 1.8 million to the South African Red Cross.
Nompumelelo Dludla, 24, a public relations management student
at Durban University of Technology, put her studies on hold
so she could volunteer for two weeks in Durban, first in the
central kitchen and then collecting and distributing donated
Initially she was shocked at the violence. “I did not
expect that such a thing could happen in our ‘rainbow
During the early days of the violence, she was struck by
the sad faces of the displaced people. “But as days
went by, they started to smile. They were very happy with
the help we were giving them, though the pain of being unceremoniously
chased away from their homes could not go away.”
Dludla was also encouraged to see that many people did not
support the violence. “The whole experience was an eye-opener
for me. I saw another good side of people. I remember one
day, there was an old lady who came to donate food —
she was crying because she was touched a lot by the situation.
“You could see she hurt. Her emotions taught me a lot
about human compassion. It also showed that in our country
there were a lot of good people.”
Dludla says she hopes the situation can be resolved soon.
“It is very important for South Africans to learn to
live with other nationalities. Soon we will host the 2010
Football World Cup that will be attended by people from all
over the world. We have to make the event a huge success for
Minnie Haule, a Cape Town volunteer with more than 25 years
in the Red Cross, emphasizes how she found a lot of satisfaction
in helping during the crisis.
“My experiences have reinforced that it is important
to think about other people before you consider your own interests.
You are forced to learn that you should not turn your back
on another human being who does not know where he or she is
going to eat or sleep.
“You also learn to care about humanity in general.
Some of the affected people were angry. They did not like
South Africans at all. But I had to convince them that there
were good people in South Africa.” She gradually gained
the trust of most of the foreign nationals she was working
Starting in May, she and her team of four women provided
two cooked meals a day to several shelters that accommodated
the displaced people. At the height of the crisis, she worked
Relief efforts went beyond addressing the immediate needs
of those displaced by the violence. The Red Cross included
affected communities in decision-making processes by seeking
their representation on the committees formed in each shelter.
In addition, the South African Red Cross Society, with support
from the International Federation, also plans to launch an
anti-discrimination programme in the coming months, under
the banner ‘Together for Humanity’. This campaign
will draw on successful examples from other National Societies.
In mid-September, South African authorities announced the
creation of a number of information points to assist people
staying in shelters to reintegrate host communities. These
desks would be open every day, allowing people to find the
information they needed to resettle in their communities,
to move to new locations or to return to their countries of
origin. They are being staffed by a host of different organizations
including the South African Red Cross Society.