Thursday, May 28, 2020
Health And Welfare

National trauma triggered by xenophobic attacks


On the 12th of May 2008, a series of riots broke out in the township of Alexandra, Johannesburg when locals attacked migrants from foreign African countries. Fast-forward to September 2019, the violence against foreign citizens other outsiders have become increasingly common. Many of the attacks that happened in September 2019 were directed at Nigerian-owned businesses and foreign-owned shops. Originally from Nigeria, Alvan Akujinwa was among thousands of foreign nationals who were affected by the violence. His mobile-phone repair business in downtown Johannesburg was targeted when gangs armed with sticks and matches attacked businesses.

According to the data gathered by African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS), as well as the Institute for Security Studies, most attacks occur in townships and areas surrounding hostels, where foreigners are blamed for social problems such as unemployment and crime. “There isn’t anything that justifies the level of violence against another person for trying to make a livelihood and, in particular, in the African context. High poverty levels on the continent are one of the factors driving the attacks and must be addressed,” said UN deputy secretary-general, Amina Jane Mohammed at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town.

Commenting on the significance of International Stress Awareness Week, Self-care and Trauma Coach, Mansel-Pleydell says post-traumatic stress disorder is a product of trauma. She said “the reason why the xenophobic attacks have left a lot of our South African’s and our neighbouring citizens really shaken up because of the insidious attacks which have the potential to destabilize society. I think that there was trauma which was created nationally, not just to those that were attacked”.

Clinical psychologist, Audrey Katsidzira talked about trauma and the psychological impact of xenophobia on families on 702. She spoke about a South African Psychologist who derived his theory from understanding the counties context and how we relate to one another. “On a practical level let’s just say that we have been hearing a lot about what is happening around us and we have been affected directly and indirectly. If you are in a family context where you heard a lot of stories but are not affected directly, that is what we call secondary trauma. Have we been conscious of how it has been affecting us and our family unit?” added Katsidzira. She went on to say that we cannot ignore the impact of trauma on a person.

A temporary shelter in Tsolo Community Hall was organized for foreign nationals who were also attacked in Katlehong in an effort to keep them safe and help them to deal with the trauma. Mother of one-year-child, Aida Chisi from Malawi who was placed at the shelter said she lost everything, including her papers. “We are assisting with everything we can, and there are some that we have taken to hospital for medical attention upon inspection by our paramedics,” said Ekurhuleni emergency services spokesperson, William Ntladi.

Lawrence Dondo from Zimbabwe said “We were not allowed to walk far from the shelter, there is a fear that the locals will attack us again. We are prisoners here and we can’t go back to our homes in Mandela Section. As soon as the situation is calm, I will go back to Zimbabwe and return to South Africa in January next year, find a safer place in South Africa to stay and find employment,” he said. According to Mansel-Pleydell “you can identify a traumatized person by a triggered state. It’s someone who is hyper-vigilant or someone who jumps at the slightest noise and overreacts to stimulus and we can help them by sending them to coaching or therapy”. She can be reached on if you are traumatized or know of someone who is showing signs of being traumatized.

Foreigners have reportedly sought help from the United Nations (UN) High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) with leaving South Africa. A crowd had gathered outside the UNHCR offices with some among them saying they would not leave until they have been helped by the UN. Meanwhile, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the recent xenophobic violence had challenged the country’s efforts to build stronger ties with other countries on the continent.

Present protests taking place in Cape Town by foreign nationals across the country are a direct consequence of the government’s willful withholding of administrative justice for foreign nationals. The Department of Home Affairs’ decision to shut down refugee centre’s in 2011 and 2012 was an act of deliberate administrative irrelevance which the courts found illegal. In 2017, the Supreme Court of Appeal ordered Home Affairs to reopen the Cape Town centre by 31 March 2018, but the department missed the deadline and has promised that it will be reopened in January 2020.

In the meantime, the particulars of the lives of thousands of displaced people are consumed daily by the whim of the Department of Home Affairs and its officials. UNHCR’s South African spokesperson, Helene Caux, assured protesters in Pretoria and Cape Town that the commission was working with the South African government, the SAPS, civil society and other stakeholders to strengthen protection responses and services.

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