ASK, SEEK & KNOCK
Known as the Greenmarket Square refugee sit-in, over 600 protestors, the majority originating from DRC, Kenya, Somalia and Burundi took refuge in the Central Methodist church as well as on the streets surrounding Greenmarket Square in Cape Town, South Africa during October 2019. Their intention was to escape xenophobic attacks and seek assistance in relocating to a country of safety. On the 1st March 2020, the City of Cape Town actioned a Western Cape High Court ruling enabling municipal by-laws to be enforced. Those occupying the sidewalks for almost 5 months were surrounded by over 100 law enforcement officers including riot police. Makeshift homes were dismantled using cranes and clean up services and so began the process of evicting hundreds of men, women and children.
The series was shot over a month long period from 30th January until the refugees were forced to vacate Greenmarket Square on 1st March 2020. It documents their daily lives, focusing predominantly on the children, most of whom were born in South Africa yet until recently have been unable to apply for citizenship(1) due to the foreign nationality of their parents.
Following their eviction on 1st March 2020, refugees and asylum seekers who had nowhere to go remained in the CBD, relocating outside the Cape Town Central police station. They remained on the street andslept on the sidewalk even after South Africa went into a full COVID-19 lockdown on March 27th 2020. Temporary shelter was eventually provided in tented marquees with clearly no thought given to social distancing. On 2nd April 2020, the second group of refugees, who took refuge inside the Methodist Church for the duration of the sit-in, was also evicted. They were relocated to a different shelter.
To date, July 2020, the crisis remains unresolved with no foreseeable plan in place when the SA COVID-19 lockdown is fully lifted. Added to months of uncertainty regarding their future they are now also faced with the harrowing reality and effects of a global pandemic. The latter is applicable to us all; however, for a large majority, we at least have some stability in the fact that we are citizens in our respective countries. A place which we can call home.
FOLLOW UP - October 2020
A year later, there has been no progress whatsoever. Tension is mounting, the refugees are hungry.
My interest does not end at the final outcome to be dictated by the South African government. In fact the Greenmarket Square refugee sit-in is just the beginning, an umbrella under which lie numerous topics of equal importance as well as grossly underexposed human rights violations. I will attempt to capture old as well as new challenges faced due to Covid-19 through the eyes and voices of various children and families I formed connections with whilst shooting the series.
I hope that my work will raise awareness of the psychological and social damages to the foreign nationals, opening the door to support and resources for those in need as well as enabling a platform to destigmatise a topic often kept behind closed doors, that of mental health. With ongoing permission from their parents, I would like to follow the journey of a number of the children with specific focus on the impact of trauma and its affects on childhood development and behaviour.
To be continued……
(1)eNCA. “#DStv403 - Children born to foreigners in SA eligible to apply for citizenship.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 27 Feb 2020. Web. 2 Mar 2020 Please see video link in resources