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08.02.2009 International

'SA unprepared for new civil violence wave'

By AllAfrica

Civil violence is likely to rise again, whether against foreign nationals or among South Africans, and neither the government nor civil society was ready to provide effective protection or relief, the Wits University Forced Migration Studies Programme has warned.

This has been emphasised in its latest damning report dubbed: "Humanitarian Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons in South Africa: Lessons Learned Following Attacks on Foreign Nationals in May 2008".

During the violent attacks, an estimated 20 000 foreigners were displaced in the province.

More than 60 foreigners and locals were also killed, mostly in Gauteng, where the violence started.

Lack of experience and established systems, lack of government leadership, fragmentation of civil society and confusion regarding the rights of foreigners marked the humanitarian response to the violent attacks, the report said.

It outlined that the South African Disaster Management Act (2002) and the Disaster Management Framework (2004) were relatively new and untested for such a case of large-scale displacement.

The act and the framework focus on displacement by natural disasters and technology-related disasters - nuclear stations, aviation - but "do not specifically include planning for displacement and humanitarian needs caused by civic disturbances and violence", said the report.

While the Disaster Management system enabled local municipalities and provinces to declare and act upon localised disasters, there was no effective national co-ordination of response from government, leading to a lack of co-ordination between Gauteng and the Western Cape.

This led to differences of response standards, waste of time and resources due to the duplication of structures and processes, and confusion regarding the rights of those displaced, the report said.

It highlighted that civil society was excluded from the regular consultative capacity in government disaster management structures. As a result the two could not exchange information for early warning and neither had good information about each other's mandates and modes of operation.

It noted that there was confusion regarding the roles of the Department of Home Affairs and the UNHCR.

The department has no welfare provision capacity and generally restricts itself to interventions relating to documentation, said the report.

There were sensitivities about public perceptions of the response as government and civil society argued that if foreigners had received more assistance from the government, it would fuel violence or resentment of foreigners.