90-year-old Jewess helps victims of anti-foreigner riots in S. Africa

Foreign migrants displaced by recent xenophobic attacks find unlikely ally.

south africa violence 22 (photo credit: AP)
south africa violence 22
(photo credit: AP)
Foreign migrants displaced by recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa have found an unlikely ally in 90-year-old volunteer Shifra Barr, from Strand in the country's Western Cape Province. Since May 11, more than 56 people have been killed and thousands displaced by attacks by native South Africans, mostly young men, against immigrant workers they claim are taking their jobs. The government has been slow to help the thousands of refugees in refugee camps across the country, and so the South African Jewish community has been helping out by providing food and blankets. At first, Barr modestly insisted her role was insignificant. "Oh, but the Strand is only a small community," she told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "You must phone Cape Town." Then she acknowledged the problem her country was facing. "The businesses were all smashed up, and a lot of [immigrants] were killed and hurt," Barr said. "They had nowhere to go to. Some went back to their homes, but there are about 22,000 of them still here. They need food and they need blankets." Along with 11 other members of the Strand's Jewish Women's Organization, Barr had spent a morning making soup and sandwiches. Barr was fatigued and left the group before they went to distribute the food, clothes and blankets. But the food was turned down in two shelters because it was not halal, the Muslim equivalent of kosher. "One lady [volunteer] actually started to cry because they can't accept our food. She had hands in front of her eyes, tears were running down. We worked very hard, you see," Barr said. The third shelter, which was run by a church, accepted the food, Barr said. "They were beautiful sandwiches," she said. She hopes the violence will end soon. "We have hope, yes," Barr said. "But like everywhere else, the interest rates have gone up, the price of everything has gone up and the people are unemployed, so there is a lot of crime. That's our biggest problem: unemployment." Kayle Nocky, another member of the Jewish Women Organization, said the Jewish community's effort to feed the refugees was well-organized. Nocky was unsure if their work was making a significant difference, adding that South African Jews "can only hope and pray." "I'd like to see the country living in peace and going forward, people being looked after, housed, fed and educated, looked after healthcare-wise and making this a better world to live in for all of us," she said.