With the recent outbreaks of violence against foreign owned shops, renewed attention is being paid to the relationships between locals and foreigners. Many of the local business owners are Somali, and as a result we have been engaging with them through our events to tap into how they feel about what’s going on – what their experiences are and how they feel community relationships could be improved.
This has once again highlighted the importance of our work with the South African Somali Women’s Network. As foreigners they are affected by local tensions, and as women they are particularly vulnerable and disproportionately affected by these tensions.
While our door-to-door campaign in Thulani Extension 1 suggested majority support for immigrants, and the Somali shop owners we spoke to didn’t feel threatened by the outbreaks of violence, some of the ladies within SASOWNET have not expressed the same optimism. The SASOWNET Johannesburg co-ordinator shared with us that her own husband had lost everything in his shop during the looting, and subsequently took a job on the other side of the country to continue supporting the family. The incidents, she told us, have left the women feeling even more vulnerable, further inhibiting them from taking up jobs.
SASOWNET offers the women a platform to organise collective action and to have a voice. One of the initiatives being planned is the publication “Listening Voices”, to tell the stories of these ladies; what their journeys have been like, their connection to their home, what it means to be a Somali woman living in South Africa, and what action they are taking to address common concerns. In this way they can share their trials and challenges, their journeys, their hopes, achievements and dreams with the world. This will help to inform others who don’t know the background of their journey to South Africa, as well as inspire those in similar positions who are also trying to integrate and take positive actions to transform their own situations.