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Hunger, xenophobia threaten migrants during Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa7 minutes read

“Hunger has no colour, but unfortunately the government of South Africa has discriminated against us on the basis of our country of origin”, said Amir Sheikh, head of the African Diaspora Forum.

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Hundreds of illegal migrants from various African countries are gathered on the streets as they are evicted from the makeshift camp they are occupying around the Central Methodist Mission in Cape Town on March 1, 2020. (Photo by RODGER BOSCH / AFP)

The car approaches the gates of the small parish church, where an army of hands await.

The precious food is swiftly taken from the car boot and back seat and lined up in bags in the courtyard, rather like a military parade. It is time for the handout. 

In the eyes of the waiting women and children, there is relief: a gleam that comes from the prospect of having a full belly.

The scene, in the parish of Mayfair just outside the centre of Johannesburg, has become grimly familiar across South Africa’s largest city. 

Even as a strict lockdown to slow the coronavirus pandemic is eased, many foreigners living in this country have no work and are hungry.

South Africa is the continent’s second-largest economy and a magnet for millions of refugees and migrants from elsewhere.

But the vast majority of them depend on day-to-day work — and this informal source of income catastrophically dried up from one day to the next because of the lockdown. 

In a country considered by the World Bank to be the most unequal in the world, many of these luckless people now have nothing. 

“I see a lot of community members suffering because of this lockdown,” said Alfred Djang, a 50-year-old lawyer who left the Democratic Republic of Congo 19 years ago. 

Some had been working in shops, “they were selling things on street corners, but they are not allowed to do it anymore,” Djang said. 

“They don’t have permits so they need to beg for food here and there,” he added. 

– ‘Hunger has no colour’ –

Amir Sheikh, head of the African Diaspora Forum, said his non-profit group had been swamped by requests for help.

“Since the beginning of the lockdown we have initiated a process of cooking food for the migrants,” the Somali said.

Funded by religious organisations, his network provides 3,500 parcels and 750 meals each week.

“It is very important because those people have been neglected… hunger has no colour, but unfortunately the government of South Africa has discriminated against us on the basis of our country of origin,” he said.

As part of an unprecedented emergency plan, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced food distributions and a monthly allowance of 350 rand ($20 / 18 euros) for the most destitute, an AFP report said.

Neither Ramaphosa nor his ministers have mentioned any conditions for the nationality of people receiving the aid.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa


But migrants and non-governmental organisations insist that in de-facto terms, the help goes to South Africans.

While the “rainbow nation” Nelson Mandela dreamed of has some four million foreigners, most of them do not have a residence permit — a document with the value of gold.

– No work, no pay –

In Lenasia, a township in the remote outskirts of Johannesburg, 49-year-old Edward Mowo relies on his Lazarus hands for a living. He brings dead televisions, radios and telephones back to life.

Under the corrugated iron roof of his shack, the Zimbabwean admitted to having difficulty feeding his wife and three children.

“Most people don’t work anymore, so they don’t get paid. So how can I be paid?” he said.

“My kids were born here but they don’t get anything because we are not South African nationals,” Mowo said.

“Even with my documents I don’t get anything. They should help us, as we are legal but I’m still waiting. I’ve never seen them… We have to survive without the government, and it’s hard.”

Sharon Ekambaram, in charge of migrants’ assistance at an NGO called Lawyers for Human Rights, said the authorities had systematically refused to help foreigners.

“There has not been a single refugee that has confirmed with me that their application is through, that they qualify and they are going to get a grant,” she said. “This is a serious crisis.”

Questioned by AFP, the social development ministry declined to comment before an upcoming court case over the conditions under which its aid is distributed. 

Ekambaram said a hotline set up last week offering legal advice received more than 700 calls within days of grants being announced, many asking about food.

“We have seen children going to hospitals being diagnosed as malnourished,” she said.

Even though apartheid ended a generation ago, South Africa is still struggling with rampant inequality and poverty, which in turn have fed ugly xenophobia.

After a surge in violence and mob attacks in September against foreign-owned businesses in and around Johannesburg, Ramaphosa was booed at the funeral of his Zimbabwean counterpart, Robert Mugabe.

“South Africa is not xenophobic,” he pleaded at the time.

– ‘Institutional xenophobia’ –

But ambiguities in his government’s policies have been laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni called for locals to be favoured for jobs as the country emerges from the crisis.

“The proportion of South Africans working in a restaurant must be greater than that of non-South Africans,” he declared.

Dewa Mavhinga of Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the pandemic had brought this type of discourse to the surface.

“A number of migrants have no access to food, they are facing starvation. It’s a blatant violation of their basic rights, it points to a pattern of institutionalised xenophobia,” Mavhinga said.

“South African authorities have an obligation to support and provide assistance to those in needs who are unable to find food,” he said. 

“If the South African government is unable to help them because of lack of resources it must open up to international supporters to step in.” 

In its defence, the government says it has set up a Solidarity Fund to coordinate emergency food aid, and no proof of identity is required from beneficiaries.

“The Solidarity Fund’s response was to roll out a humanitarian relief effort aimed at assisting vulnerable families, experiencing severe food insecurity across South Africa, irrespective of their nationality,” said Thandeka Ncube, head of humanity support.

But many illegal immigrants prefer to keep their distance from these handouts, dreading that they will be picked up, say grassroots workers.

“Without any permit, our main worry is to be deported. They have to hide from the police, it’s exhausting,” said Abdurahman Musa Jibro, a leader for Ethiopia’s Oromo community in South Africa.

He says that he too has received no help from the authorities.

– ‘Humanity should come first’ –

“Some shopkeepers are asking their clients for an ID before selling them some food,” Jibro said.

“If you cannot show any ID, they tell you ‘go elsewhere, go elsewhere’,” he added.

Thanks to the generosity of his community, his association has been able to feed around a thousand Ethiopian families, most of them undocumented or asylum seekers. 

“Some people are bringing us food parcels. That’s how we survive now,” said a 47-year-old Ethiopian woman who asked to remain anonymous.

She fled repression in her country and has been living in Johannesburg with her three children without a residence permit since 2008.

She said she believed the government should help her family because “we are living here in this country. Humanity should come first, before any document.”

Some consulates in neighbouring countries have recently expressed interest in arranging the repatriation of their citizens stranded in South Africa during the pandemic.

“That’s a possibility which I’m considering,” said Collin Makumbirofa, a 41-year-old Zimbabwean who has been living in the overcrowded Alexandra township in Johannesburg for more than a decade.

“As foreign nationals, we are contributing so much to the South African economy, it’s totally unfair from the South African government not to help people living on its own soil,” he said.

“It’s very tough, we are starving. Life has become unbearable here.”

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Board of Governors agree to independent probe of AfDB President, Adesina

The ethics committee of the continental bank, headed by Takuji Yano, had in its report last month cleared Adesina of all sixteen counts saying he was was not guilty of all the charges but the United States remained unconvinced.

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President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwumi Adesina in an undated photo.

After weeks of review and consultation, the Bureau of Board of Governors of the African Development Bank Group has bowed to US pressure and approved an independent investigation of the allegations against the President of the Bank, Akinwumi Adesina.

“Based on the views of some Governors on the matter and the need to carry every Governor along in resolving it, the Bureau agrees to authorize an Independent Review of the Report of the Ethics Committee of the Boards of Directors relative to the allegations considered by the Ethics Committee and the submissions made by the President of the Bank Group thereto in the interest of due process”, a communique from the Board of Governors said Thursday.

The decision, taken at the meeting of the Bureau on Thursday regarding the whistle-blowers’ complaints against Adesina, is in deference to the demand by the U.S. government that a fresh and in-depth investigation be conducted into the allegations against Adesina using an independent investigator, Premium Times, a Nigerian daily reported having access to the resolution on Friday.

On May 5, the ethics committee of the continental bank, headed by Takuji Yano, said in its report that Adesina was not guilty on all counts.

Yano is a Japanese executive director charged with the responsibility of investigating allegations by some concerned employees against the Bank’s president.

The committee described the allegations that Adesina violated the code of conduct of the institution as “spurious and unfounded”.

Regardless, the United States government expressed “deep reservations about the integrity of the committee’s process” and called for a fresh “in-depth investigation of the allegations.”

– Why fresh probe is required –

At the end of its meeting Thursday, the Bureau of Board of Governors issued a communique, agreeing with the U.S and authorizing an independent review of the ethic committee’s report.

The communique, signed by the Chairperson of the Bureau of the Boards of Governors, Niale Kaba, reads,

“The Bureau reiterates that it agrees that the Ethics Committee of the Boards of
Directors performed its role on this matter in accordance with the applicable rule under Resolution B/BG/2008/11 of the Board of Governors.

“The Bureau also reiterates that the Chairperson of the Bureau of the Board of
Governors performed her role in accepting the findings of the Ethics Committee in accordance with the said Resolution.

“However, based on the views of some Governors on the matter and the need to carry every Governor along in resolving it, the Bureau agrees to authorize an Independent Review of the Report of the Ethics Committee of the Boards of Directors relative to the allegations considered by the Ethics Committee and the submissions made by the President of the Bank Group thereto in the interest of due process.

“The Independent Review shall be conducted by a neutral high calibre individual with unquestionable experience, high international reputation and integrity within a short time period of not more than two to four weeks maximum, taking the Bank Group’s electoral calendar into account.

“The Bureau agrees that, within a three to six month period and following the independent review of the Ethics Committee Report, an independent comprehensive review of the implementation of the Bank Group’s Whistle-Blowing and Complaints Handling Policy should be conducted with a view to ensuring that the Policy is properly implemented, and revising it where necessary, to avoid situations of this nature in the future.”

The AfDB President is yet to react to the latest decisions by the Board of Governors. But he has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

On a visit to President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday, Mr Adesina, a former Nigerian Minister for Agriculture, said the 16 allegations raised against him were trumped up, “and without facts, evidence, and documents, as required by the rules and regulations of the bank.”

He added that the Ethics Committee of the bank cleared him of all the allegations, and that calls for a fresh investigation by the United States of America, were against the rules.

“My defence ran into 250 pages, and not a single line was faulted or questioned,” he said.

“The law says that report of the Ethics Committee should be transmitted to the Chairman of Governors of the bank. It was done, and the governors upheld the recommendations.

“That was the end of the matter, according to the rules. It was only if I was culpable that a fresh investigation could be launched.

“I was exonerated, and any other investigation would amount to bending the rules of the bank, to arrive at a predetermined conclusion.”

While stressing that the motive was to soil his name, and that of the bank, the AfDB President said he was proud to be Nigerian, and thanked President Buhari for his unflinching support.

Nigeria is the largest shareholder of the African Development Bank with 9.1 percent shares.

– Allegations against Adesina –

In its petition, the concerned staff accused Mr Adesina of 20 breaches of the bank’s code of conduct, including “unethical conduct, private gain, an impediment to efficiency, preferential treatment, and involvement in political activities.”

The group, which noted their allegations were in line with AfDB’s whistle-blowing policy, said these activities adversely affected the confidence and integrity of the bank.

Nigeria, Adesina’s home country, had last week countered the US by insisting that such a request for an independent investigation could not be granted by the Board of Governors as AfDB’s corporate governance code contains no such provision for an external “independent outside investigator”.

Nigerian authorities then began lobbying for Adesina after receiving satisfactory intelligence briefing that the AfDB president was the victim of a witch-hunt by the Americans.

“The call for an independent investigation of the president is outside of the laid down rules, procedures and governing system of the bank and its articles as it relates to the code of conduct on ethics for the president,” Zainab Ahmed, Nigeria’s Finance minister wrote in a letter to AfDB’s Board of Governors where it denounced the plans to circumvent the bank’s internal procedures.

Ahmed asked the AfDB to “uphold the rule of law and respect the governance systems of the bank” and if there was need for improvement, it should be done according to laid down procedure. She then highlighted all Adesina’s projects and achievements which she noted did not warrant such an attack on his career.

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, in a letter to former African presidents also canvassed support for Adesina, saying he had taken the bank to a great height since he took the position in the last five years.

Adesina, “has actively positioned (AfDB) as an effective global institution ranked fourth globally in terms of transparency among 45 multilateral and bilateral institutions,” Obasanjo wrote to 13 former heads of state including Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia and Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson of Liberia.

The U.S. became a member of the African Development Fund in 1976 and of the African Development Bank in 1983. Also, its bilateral cooperation with the bank has been strengthened through cooperation agreements.

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Politics

Court rejects Burundian opposition bid to annul poll results

The panel of judges said the CNL had failed to provide sufficient evidence and ruled the complaints were “null and void”, validating Evariste Ndayishimiye’s victory with 68.7 percent of the vote.

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Presidential Candidate and Leader of opposition National Freedom Council (CNL), Agathon Rwasa

Burundi’s constitutional court has rejected an opposition bid to overturn the results of the May 20th presidential election, declaring the ruling party’s candidate Evariste Ndayishimiye the winner.

The opposition National Freedom Council (CNL), headed by Agathon Rwasa, had alleged the May 20 general election was riddled with fraud and irregularities, including intimidation of voters, the arrest of opposition polling agents, ballot stuffing and proxy voting. 

However the panel of judges said the CNL had failed to provide sufficient evidence and ruled the complaints were “null and void”, validating Ndayishimiye’s victory with 68.7 percent of the vote.

Rwasa’s share of the vote was given at 24.18 percent while opposition party UPRONA won 1.63 percent.

The ruling CNDD-FDD won 86 seats in parliament and the CNL 32, while UPRONA won two. Three seats are constitutionally reserved for the minority Twa ethnic group.

The ruling party’s information secretary Nancy Ninette Mutoni on Twitter hailed a turnout of 87.71 percent of 5.1 million registered voters.

Heavily armed police were deployed around the country’s main city Bujumbura for the court’s ruling.

The CNL appeared resigned to an outcome it had predicted.

“We were not expecting a miracle, despite the massive fraud and numerous irregularities that we presented to the court and despite the Catholic Church’s report,” party secretary general Simon Bizimungu told AFP.

“We are not surprised, because the court system is not independent in Burundi.”

Burundi’s Catholic Church said last week its observers stationed at polling centres across the country also witnessed ballot box tampering, officials harassing and intimidating voters, and proxies registered “in place of dead people and refugees”.

Foreign observers were not allowed to oversee the electoral process.

A joint statement issued by western diplomats made no reference to any irregularities and urged the opposition to pursue legal paths to contest the election outcome.

“The elections took place in a highly repressive environment with no independent international observers,” said Lewis Mudge of Human Rights Watch in a statement on Monday.

“Reports of killings, arbitrary arrests, beatings, and voter intimidation during the campaigns should not be brushed under the rug.”

One voter told the rights watchdog that the feared youth wing of the ruling party, known as the Imbonerakure, which the United Nations has described as a militia, were inside the voting station “telling people to vote for the CNDD-FDD.”

– Challenges ahead -Ndayishimiye, 52, a former army general who was handpicked by ruling party elites to succeed veteran President Pierre Nkurunziza, will be sworn in in August for a seven-year mandate.

Nkurunziza will step aside after 15 tumultuous years. His controversial bid to stand for a third term in 2015 sparked violence and a major political crisis which left at least 1,200 dead and saw 400,000 flee the country.

The regime tightened its grip on the country, and allegations of rights violations by security forces have soared in recent years.

Ndayishimiye is described by those who know him as more open-minded than many in the ruling CNDD-FDD party, and is not associated with the worst abuses of recent years.

However observers say he did not stand out as trying to rein in the violence that erupted after the 2015 election.

He is set to inherit a deeply isolated country, under sanctions and cut off by foreign donors, its economy and national psyche damaged by years of political violence and rights violations.

A first major challenge is likely to be the coronavirus outbreak until now largely ignored in the country, which has taken few measures to combat it, with authorities claiming God is protecting Burundi from its worst ravages.

The country has officially recorded 63 cases and one death, however doctors in Bujumbura speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity say many cases and deaths are going unreported.

Burundi’s first lady Denise Bucumi is currently in a Nairobi hospital after being evacuated last week, with a high-ranking government official and a source in the presidency confirming she had tested positive for the virus. 

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Health

Bitter sweets: Madagascar minister fired over candy plan

Minister Rijasoa Andriamanana said last week she was ordering $2.2 million worth of sweets to go with the Covid-Organics concoction, which some experts have warned is useless against COVID-19.

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Madagascar MPs investigated for corruption.
President Andry Rajoelina of Madagascar.

Madagascar’s education minister was sacked Thursday after announcing a plan to buy sweets for students to take the edge off the “bitter taste” of a herbal tea the president says is a coronavirus remedy.

Minister Rijasoa Andriamanana said last week she was ordering $2.2 million worth of sweets to go with the Covid-Organics concoction, which some experts have warned is useless against COVID-19.

She told the press that “a purchase of sweets and lollipops” had been made, with all students in the Indian Ocean island nation to receive three each.

She added that it was for the “bitter taste” of the drink, which President Andry Rajoelina has been promoting for export, saying it is the country’s “green gold” which will “change history”.

The potential benefits of Covid-Organics, have not been validated by any scientific study. 

That such expense was going to sweets in one of the world’s poorest country’s sparked outrage, fanned by the Malagasy press, and the order was cancelled.

The minister defended the plan, but it was not considered by the cabinet, which relieved her of her duties in a dry statement.

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