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For the last few months, I have been interning with a local organization called PASSOP (People Against Suffering, Suppression, Oppression, and Poverty). Founded a few years ago by Braam Hanekom, PASSOP serves as a grassroots NGO dedicated to protecting and lobbying for the rights of foreigners in South Africa. In my time at PASSOP, I’ve learned so much not only about the crises in Zimbabwe and other neighbouring countries, about the struggles foreigners in South Africa face, but also about how civil society works with and against the government here in South Africa.
In April, I helped write a proposal for a education project similar to what I did for Amnesty International, whereby PASSOP staff members would be teaching local high school students about cultural identity, cultural diversity, and xenophobia. The goal of this project is to foster understanding and tolerance in youth to prevent a future breakout of xenophobic violence here in South Africa. Given the political and economic situation in many African countries (specifically: Zimbabwe, DR Congo, Somalia, Angola and Malawi), South Africa has become the point of refuge for hundreds of thousands of refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants. For South Africans struggling to find jobs and provide for themselves and their families, foreigners who hold jobs are often held in contempt. And so the process goes—stereotypes form, prejudices grow and xenophobia builds and violence occurs.
The most recent example of xenophobic violence was in May of 2008. It began with several riots in a township near Johannesburg which spread across South Africa, leaving 62 dead, several hundred injured and forced many foreigners to return to their home countries.
PASSOP also has two help desks, one in Imizamo Yethu, a township in Hout Bay and one in Masiphumelele, a township in Fish Hoek. These help desks offer paralegal advice to both foreigners and South Africans who have labour or documentation concerns offer a free CVs (resumes) writing service for those seeking jobs. Many of these people have limited access to computers and printers, so creating a CV is difficult. I’ve spent my fair share of time writing up CVs and although it can be tedious, it’s rewarding knowing how much having a CV can help someone find a job. We also give out questionnaires to both foreigners and South Africans to gauge xenophobic sentiments in the townships.
I have met some truly incredible people and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities I have had working at PASSOP. This experience so far has definitely added a new perspective to my understanding of human rights and social justice and continues to remind me of why I am so passionate about this issue.