Thursday, June 5, 2008

An 8th synopsis: Two Camps

Two Camps

HDV – By Rehad Desai, Nicolaas Hofmeyre, Francesco Biagini, Tony Bensusan, Nami Mhlongo.
Supported by many others film activists and professional filmmakers
Editors Khalid Shamis and Lentsoe Serote, Ravi Desai
Equipment donated by Visual Impact, DV8, The Cameraman, Wits University
Production Company Uhuru Productions

This is a story about the increasing hardships facing refugees in the city of Johannesburg told through the experience of three African men; Leo, Chibombe and Patrick. Their stories will testify to the struggle for survival facing the most vulnerable and alienated in a city at the helm of the so-called African Renaissance.

Leo, originally from the Congo is an asylum seeker at the Cleveland Police Station refugee camp while Chibombe, his compatriot is a resident at the Jeppe Police Station camp. Patrick is Zimbabwean and has become a prisoner in his own home. His single room atop a block of flats is at the heart of the inner city area of Bertrams, which sprawls between the Jeppe and Cleveland camps. (FAR member Rehad Desai - pictured right)

Leo gained refugee status a year ago but remains unemployed, as he is the leader of the Congolese community in Cleveland. Softly spoken, articulate and incredibly charismatic, he is an archetypal leader and born orator who effortlessly conjures life in the Congo, his flight from persecution, and his experiences in South Africa. His investment in community has cultivated in him a distinct set of hopes for the future that are intrinsically linked to those he leads. Through him we are allowed a window into daily life in the refugee camp- both the overwhelming poverty and the very human elements that make it bearable. (FAR member Francesco Biagini - pictured right)

During the Johannesburg march against Xenophobia, Leo was selected to address the thousands who gathered in protest. He was involved in lobbying the United Nations Committee for Human Rights in Pretoria, and formed part of the committee that inspected the proposed camp the city council wants to relocate both the Cleveland and Jeppe camps to.

He defined from his expert position his fears about the location of the new camp; the migrant labour hostels that surround it have been implicated in the attacks against African immigrants in the area before and present a real security threat. (FAR member Nami Mhlongo - pictured right)

They* defeat the councils attempt to move them by winning a successful court interdict led by the Methodist Church. He and hundreds of others from the Cleveland camp are still waiting it out in Cleveland in the hope that they will be moved to a place of safety, with adequate sanitation and ablution facilities. But food is running low and tempers running high in Cleveland and the Jeppe camps.

Chibombi Mayenja is a Congolese refugee at the Jeppe camp. He was beaten and tortured in the DRC for allegedly leaking of information to the press about illegal mining operations. He was attached to the secret service and decided that he and young family needed to escape from the country. He now works as a motors parts inspector and was nominated by his South African co-workers as a shop steward; he is also vice chairperson of his trade union branch and has a good relationship with those he works with.

Still nursing a eye wound he received in a xenophobic attack, he speaks most convincingly about why he and his fellow Africans are being persecuted and powerfully describe the general and present plight of those refugees in the Jeppe Camp. The Jeppe Camp is highly organized and it is they who ensured the interdict route was taken and have agreed to passively resist any relocation that they have not agreed to make. (FAR member Khalid Shamis - pictured right)

Patrick Ndlovu is a Zimbabwean who is ethnically Ndbele. This has given him a language advantage and has ensured an easier integration into South African society. He was an MDC activist and was beaten and tortured by the ZANU – PF youth militia “The Green Bombers”. He arrived in Johannesburg 5 years ago and up until recently was up to date with asylum papers.

He describes being subjected to humiliating attacks by South African and what they are doing to others, how he fears to walk the streets, and tells us he is waiting to see what happens before he decides whether to leave the country or not. Patrick unwilling to face the wrath of Mugabe’s present reign of terror is planning to go to Mozambique and make home in border town where he can regularly cross over into Zimbabwe. After another vicious attack in early June, Patrick put the wheels in motion for this move. We intend to follow him to the border and watch him cross over.

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