The recent outbreak of xenophobic attacks got Sonke Gender Justice as an organisation to respond to the situation with the view of lending a helping hand to the many African nationals that we have been working with through our refugees programme . On Tuesday 20 May I visited the Jeppe Police Station with a Sonke colleague Nobesuthu Dikeledi, who manages our refugees project in Pretoria, after learning that most of the victims of the attacks have been flocking there since Saturday 17 May to seek safety and shelter.
Little did I know that the situation would have such an impact on me. For the first time in my life I had to come face to face with the reality that thousands of Africans are faced with because of the unrest that is going on in their countries. Women, children and men all squeezed at the back yard of the police station resembling a scene that you normally see only in the movies or on the news happening far afield, I never thought that it might be happening in my own back yard. I started interviewing some of the refugees there and they related their stories. I found myself feeling numb and unable to listen to the horrific experience that these people went through.
I sat down with lot of questions to myself but no answers. Some of the questions I was asking myself was whether in our work (Sonke and other organisations) we will ever be able to change the belief that society has – and more especially men in this case – that violence is a solution. I came to realise that part of what was going on was that it wasn’t just xenophobic violence but was also about men expressing their manhood by attacking men and women.
I found myself hearing over and again what one woman I interviewed said to me: “my baby is sick because we have been sleeping in the open since Saturday”. Then I thought of an innocent baby of four months whose father is South African has had to go through this because her mother happens to come from another part of Africa. She is not taking anyone’s job but just simply plying her trade as a hair dresser in the streets of the City of Gold and making our own mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives, daughters and nieces beautiful.
Still today I can’t believe that men – because of the stereotypes they are acting out and the type of power they seem to be celebrating – are making our hard gained democracy a mockery of the world. I am still shaken about what I saw and experienced at the Jeppe Police Station.