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MCC aids immigrants displaced by violence in South Africa

Tim Shenk
May 29, 2008

AKRON, Pa. – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is responding to a wave of attacks against immigrants in Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city, by helping to provide food, supplies and latrines for people who have been displaced by the violence.

Carl Stauffer, an MCC regional peace network coordinator in Johannesburg, said that an estimated 17,000 people have been displaced by the violence in the city in the last week. Many have gathered in churches, community halls and police stations that are now overcrowded, Stauffer said.

MCC is renting 30 portable latrines for displaced people in Johannesburg and providing funds for a local church to purchase and distribute food, water and toiletries. MCC is providing $8,200 for these projects.

Stauffer said that the current violence builds on longstanding tensions between South Africans and the millions of refugees who have fled to South Africa from other African countries since the end of Apartheid in 1994.

In Johannesburg, the main area of recent violence, mobs have set fire to the homes of suspected immigrants and killed dozens of people, Stauffer said.

"Most of this violence is happening in the poor and disadvantaged communities, the informal settlements or shack settlements," Stauffer said. "So, it definitely has an economic scope to it."

Stauffer said that many low-income South Africans are frustrated with a lack of economic opportunities, affordable housing and social services. He said that these difficulties are sometimes blamed on the presence of immigrants.

Stauffer, who is from Richmond, Va., coordinates a network of 12 African peace workers in South Africa and other countries. He said that he hopes this group can help to defuse the current tensions by promoting dialogue between South Africans and immigrants and advocating for better social services.

The network recently launched an effort to reach out to former combatants in South Africa's liberation struggle. The project helped a group of former combatants to find jobs and improve their economic situation.

"It was a pilot project, and we're hoping that type of thing can continue in the future," Stauffer said.