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Miranda Madikane, director of Scalabrini, reflects on the organisation’s year in her end-of-year letter. Image credit: Maria Rivans for Wellcome Collection.

Dear partners, friends, colleagues!

This year has been a whirlwind, which has blown both good and bad into our lives.

Our first 2020 newsletter, at the onset of the pandemic, marvelled at the adaptability of the Scalabrini team in reaction to the national lockdown – an adaptability mirrored in our clients’ everyday lives as they navigate and survive in South Africa. Our second newsletter looked at the unexpected depth of warmth and hospitality that the pandemic created amongst the general public. And now, as our last newsletter closes off this turbulent year, it is time to settle into the festive season and reflect. I find myself reflecting on this idea of coming ‘home’.

Whatever your faith or beliefs, December is a time of year when we seek to draw closer to our friends and families. It is intended as a time of rest and reflection and many of us return ‘home’ to be with loved ones. I think I am safe in saying that, if any of us are able to be safe, and with loved ones this December, we are in a very fortunate percentage of the world – and the pandemic has only served to highlight this.

Much like the opening scenes of the film ‘Wizard of Oz’ (in which a tornado rips into the protagonist’s life and whisks her home away) the pandemic seemed to tip our worlds upside-down in a mighty whirlwind; our concept of ‘home’ might too have been affected. Many people have been unable to reach loved ones due to the travel restrictions brought about by Covid-19. For others, ‘home’ is not a safe or happy space – and our recent SGBV campaign  has aimed to signpost those who are not safe in their homes.

As you can imagine, for the majority of our clients, returning to their homeland is simply an impossibility – pandemic or no pandemic.

Homesickness was recently explored (and beautifully illustrated) in a recent article in which a student from Scalabrini’s English School was featured. This was one article in a series about homesickness. This specific piece looked at refugee communities’ homesickness – ‘when you can’t return home’. The idea of ‘home’ and ‘missing home’ has been found to form more than just a personal feeling among those seeking asylum. Homesickness for many refugee communities is something much more profound, deep and communal – a shared sentiment that shapes the communities’ identity and diaspora cultures. Mirroring this, our Far From Home Series collected up some beautiful, strong words from people on migrant and refugee status in South Africa who survived the pandemic ‘far from home’. Marc, for example, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, stresses that ‘we need to be strong and never lose hope. I understand that things are even worse especially when you are far from home …  [but] every time we put food on our table, we shall remember those who don’t have.’ This strength, despite being far from home, is what strikes me so often at Scalabrini.

This festive period, I hope you are able to rest and reflect with those you love. If you are not able to, I hope you can take strength from others around you and know that you are not alone. Onacisse, who participated in Far From Home, leaves us with some hopeful advice: “Check up on family and friends, and appreciate them each every day, it reduces stress especially during this tough time. I hope and believe that one day we will rejoice with our loved ones, because Coronavirus is not going to stay forever. And after this pandemic life is going to change for the better.”

I wish you a peaceful December break, and we hope that 2021 will bring us warm breezes rather than whirlwinds!

Miranda Madikane
Director at Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town

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Promoting human rights through our affordable and socially-responsible Guesthouse

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As Human Rights Day approaches, tourists and travelers can contribute to ensuring migration rights, simply in the accommodation they choose! 

The term ‘conscious travel has a green glimmer to it – one usually thinks of promoting environmental sustainability – but it also encompasses community impact and human rights. The Scalabrini Guesthouse offers affordable accommodation in the heart of Cape Town’s city centre and all of the revenue goes directly to supporting Scalabrini – an organisation which provides vital services to refugees, migrants and South Africans with a vision of fostering peaceful integration between all  

With the December season upon us, people will be traveling around the country to spend time with loved ones. This migration is reflected in the people using Scalabrini’s services: people who have travelled to South Africa in search of a better life for themselves and their loved ones. The simple choice that you make about where to stay in Cape Town can help with making someone’s integration into South Africa a bit easier.  

Lockdown Assistance 

 When the hard lockdown hit South Africa, our welfare team jumped into action to support people who are migrants and refugees, as there was very little government support available to them, and those in informal jobs were hardest hit. The welfare team assessed and assisted over 5,000 people during the hard lockdown and continue to do so now as the lockdown has eased. The Welfare Programme is just one of the areas that the guesthouse revenue supports.  

With many people still feeling overwhelmed by the effects of lockdown and not knowing how they can helpthe Scalabrini Guesthouse offers a solution to this, while also being able to enjoy your time off.  

Heart of the city 

The guesthouse is located in the centre of Cape Town – meaning the beaches, mountains and other attractions are easily accessible. Each room comes with its own bathroom, there is daily housekeeping and laundry services are on offer. A fully-equipped kitchen allows for self-catering, but there are also plenty of great restaurants nearby! 

Contact Us   

Sindiso Hlokomayo – Facilities Manager 



Taking back the power and finding strength | #HelpingHandsSGBV

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Our #HelpingHandsSGBV campaign looks at how SGBV in South Africa affects children and adults from other countries. For non-South Africans, there can be extra barriers to reporting SGBV – but there are similarities in their experiences too. #HelpingHandsSGBV aims to provide information on how to better understand, report and get help on issues of SGBV in South Africa. 

Although Mawuwa’s* story is one of abuse starting in her home country of Burundi, it is also a story of strength. She has never given up on fighting for herself and her children to have a better life.  

Difficult Journeys 

In the beginning it was difficult for me to speak up – it was really difficult.” Living very much in isolation in South Africa, not being able to speak English well and having only the father of her children for support – Mawuwa found herself unable to leave her abusive household. Noticing the bruises, a teacher at her daughter’s school began a conversation with Mawuwa around the safety of her and her children. “The teacher asked me if I want to stay – I said I don’t know where to go. I have no family. If I had somewhere to go, I would leave him.”  

Ending up in hospital and having her children taken into care was the end of the line for Mawuwa and the father of her children. She did not want to return to the house for fear of her life. “I made the decision not to go back.” This was the point where she decided that she was going to fight for herself and fight to get her children back.  

Mawuwa has faced barriers that are common for many people affected by sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), but specifically for people who are not originally from South Africa. Her documentation was used as leverage by her partner and her lack of English meant that her support was very small if it existed at all.  

Gaining strength and finding help 

After Mawuwa was discharged from hospital, she began approaching different organisations for assistance, finding bits of help from each organisationShe travelled around Cape Town determined to seek out support and assistance. Mawuwa was reunited with her children from whom she had been separated during her discharge from hospital. 

Mawuwa accessed counseling services as well as legal services to help move forward in all spheres of life. Although some organisations were not able to help, her case is currently with lawyers who are helping her and her children specifically with their documentation.  

Her advice to someone living in a similar situation is to reach out to organisationsThere are different services that can be accessed and different forms of help available.  You can visit the Scalabrini website to find organisations dealing with SGBV.  

Dreaming of a better future  

Mawuwa hopes for a life where her and her children can live with freedom from fear. Being able to have the correct documentation would allow Mawuwa and her family to access the rights that they have been fighting for over the last few years. Mawuwa dreams of her children having access to opportunities that she did not have; she wants them to be able to pursue their dreams and to live a life of peace.  

*Names and places have been changed  

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From silence to empowerment with Adonis Musati | #HelpingHandsSGBV

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As the manager of the counseling centre and Women’s Empowerment Programme at Adonis Musati Project, Sylvie Mbebe has been the first point of contact for many people affected by sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). The Women’s Empowerment Programme focuses on reasons abuse could happen, facing abuse in a country that is not your home and how to move from being a victim to seeking help and even becoming an advocate against SGBV. 

Sylive has been part of people’s journey towards self-empowerment and the realisation of their dreams. In some cases, Sylvie's clients have gone on to speak out publicly against SGBV and advocating on others' behalf.  

Similarities and differences 

Working so closely with SGBV survivors, Sylvie sees many similarities faced by South Africans and people originally from other countries. “South African’s and migrants go through the same patterns of abuse and they suffer the same consequences of abuse.”  

Because of her line of work, she is also aware of the specific barriers faced by people who are not originally from South Africa. “I think there is a difference in terms of voicing what is happening. SGBV is more taboo in these (migrant and refugee) communities, where South Africans are more open to talking about it. That is the difference that I have seen.” 

Sylvie sees helplessness and fear as the major factors around preventing people from getting support or reporting the violence. She finds that, for many SGBV survivors, living in a foreign country adds to a sense of helplessness. With smaller social networks around them, these survivors often rely on the perpetrators themselves for support – especially in cases of intimate partner violence. Speaking up about this violence or reporting it can seem impossible 

“Most of the time they tell me that they’ve never told anyone about it.” 

Barriers to talking and reporting 

When discussing barriers to talking about and reporting SGBV, Sylvie noticed some common themes. One is the need for acceptance and saving face. There is a fear of what the community will say as well as what their family will say. “If a victim has to make the community aware of what she’s going through, she fears stigma from the community. They are told that every couple has their issues and these issues need to be discussed behind closed doors. They are told that speaking about this makes you less of a woman. Many people also feel ashamed by the thought of their story being passed around the community and forming some type of ‘gossip’.  

A second barrier to reporting SGBV is dependency. “Many of the people affected by SGBV are unemployed, or illiterate, undocumented, or have no family here to back them up. They think ‘if I have to talk and this man kicks me out of the house, where will I go?’ Where shall I go with my children? Who will provide for my children? It’s financial dependency and lack of knowledge in terms of rights. 

Many of Sylvie’s clients have been let down by South African services such as the police and the court system. As a result, many people feel that reporting will not lead to a solution and may even aggravate the situation. 

Sylvie speaks of these being the common barriers, but that there are also very specific cultural reasons for each person not wanting to speak up. For example, in some people’s culture “it is a curse to marry a woman that has been abused.” This alone provides a specific reason why some of Sylvie’s clients have difficulties in addressing or leaving an abusive situation.  

Nevertheless, times are slowly changing. Thoughts are progressing, bolstered by people who have gained the courage to speak. Sylvie considers education as the vital key. If you know your rights you can start to really address SGBV. There are also small steps that people can take to broaden their social networks; like joining English classes, skills training programmes and community groups.  

Taking back the power 

The Adonis Musati Project runs peer counselling sessions. During these sessions, Sylvie noticed that people did not feel comfortable speaking about their experiences of SGBV. Their fear of stigma is still there. This birthed the Women’s Empowerment Programme. Here, a space was created for people to really express themselves, for their emotions to unfold and for their minds to reflect. “These women could really start to understand that they did not deserve the abuse. The programme is to help people realise that abuse is not normal. We also teach about rights, we inform them about resources they can access, and we speak about documentation, because documentation is also a factor that limits victims to report – the perpetrator also uses that to maintain the abuse.” 

“We advocate that women take the lead in their lives. When they are in the position of a victim, they feel like there is nothing for them and their dreams have been shattered. In our programmes we teach them to reflect on something that they still have, something that is positive – that can be a source for motivation for success. And I have seen women striving.” Sylvie has seen a woman with five children go back to school and another woman who has gone to nursing school and become a motivational speaker. “Knowledge is very important and there is no limit to education. Even if you come from far there is a future. Where there is life there is hope. Out of the broken pieces, you can use those broken pieces and make something beautiful out of it, if you believe. 


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Scalabrini court victory for people seeking asylum in South Africa

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Home Affairs has been interdicted from implementing certain provisions of the Refugees Act and new Regulations (both implemented on 1 January 2020), which sought to return asylum seekers back to their home country where they could be face detention without trial, rape, torture, or death, merely because he or she was a month late in renewing a visa.

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On 30 November 2020, Judge Baartman handed down judgement in the Western Cape High Court, which suspended the operation of certain provisions of the Refugees Act, 1998 and the 2018 Regulations thereto (both of which came into effect on 1 January 2020). The suspended provisions are commonly referred to as the ‘abandonment provisions’. 

The suspension will operate until the constitutional attack against the impugned provisions has been adjudicated on by the Western Cape High Court and, to the extend necessary, confirmed by the Constitutional Court.

The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, represented on a pro bono basis by Norton Rose Fulbright and Advocates David Simonsz and Nomonde Nyembe sought to prevent the short and long term operation of the abandonment provisions, as the provisions infringed on asylum seekers’ rights to life, freedom and security of person, dignity, and equality; and prevented South Africa from fulfilling its international law obligations towards refugees, including the international law principle of non-refoulement.

The abandonment provisions provided that in the event that an asylum seeker fails to renew their asylum visa timeously, their applications for asylum are deemed abandoned. Arrest and deportation would follow for individuals with valid and undecided claims for asylum; back to countries of origin where they could face death, torture, sexual violence, and other forms of persecution from which they originally fled, or to countries experiencing grave disturbances to the public order. Only where an asylum seeker has a compelling reason (and proof thereof) for delaying to renew a permit following a lapse (such as hospitalisation or imprisonment) can the Department of Home Affairs pardon the late renewal.

This is deeply problematic as it means that refugees can be returned to face persecution, without ever having the substantive merits of their asylum application determined. It also leaves asylum seekers vulnerable in South Africa as essentially undocumented foreigners who will struggle to access health care, employment and education while they await the decision of whether their reason for late renewal meets the Department of Home Affairs high threshold.

The reality for asylum seekers is that they are frequently required to renew their asylum visas. In the renewal process, they experience extraordinary delays caused by the administrative failures of the Department of Home Affairs. These are often exacerbated by socio-economic factors such as not having the means to travel to far away Refugee Reception Offices as frequently as is required, waiting in long queues at the Refugee Reception Offices, facing corruption from officials who refuse to renew visas without bribes, or the general inefficiency of the Refugee Reception Offices that are over-worked but under-staffed. 

In light of these realities many asylum seekers fail to renew their visas for valid reasons. Judge Baartman delivered a powerful judgment, emphasising that the case does not involve imaginary victims – the suspended abandonment provisions affect real asylum seekers who could face serious human rights violations should the provisions continue to operate. She criticized the Department’s conduct in the case, which was characterised as regrettable and unhelpful.

The judgement will come as a relief to many asylum seekers who have been unable to renew their visas for valid reasons and will give them an opportunity to do so without the fear of being treated as an illegal foreigner and returned home. This includes many asylum seekers who may have been prevented from renewing their asylum documents prior to the pausing of services at Refugee Reception Offices during the national lockdown – a pause which is set to remain in effect until at least 31 January 2021. Scalabrini Centre, represented by Norton Rose Fulbright, firmly believes the abandonment provisions are unconstitutional and persists in a challenge to this effect.

Media Contacts

Norton Rose Fulbright Inc

Nicki van’t Riet, Director: nicki.vantriet@nortonrosefulbright.com 

Laura Macfarlane, Associate: laura.macfarlane@nortonrosefulbright.com 

Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town

Sally Gandar: Head of Advocacy & Legal Advisor: sally@scalabrini.org.za

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