Telling personal testimonies using photographs, text, film and visual art installations, the exhibition illustrates the reality of people, mainly, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Zimbabwe. Many of them have come to South Africa because of varying circumstances and had dreams of a better life that they are deprived of in their home countries. But once they got here they experienced a hateful society.
“I left my country, the Congo - DRC - in 2002. I left because of economic instability. I couldn’t put food on our table. I’m the first born. I’m having eight younger brothers and one younger sister. They want me to help them. I couldn’t do it in Congo. But since I came here, I’ve been trying to do it. Even though my own flesh and blood in South Africa - because African brothers are brothers to me - have been trying to pull me down, I stood up and said that ‘I’ll be here’, “ says Remi kasanda, a refuges from the Democratic Republic of Congo and site manager of the Solidarity for Survival exhibition.
“Coming to South Africa… it wasn’t easy. But we had one hope – that they are still our brothers and here we can get what we couldn’t get back in our country, like education, health care, security and much more. And coming here, that paradise feeling would just disappear. There’s a big, big problem in paradise”, adds Zamzam Abdirahman from Somalia.
Abdirahman says a major part of their struggle is access to health care.
I’m not happy with what’s going on in public health care. One thing is the language barrier. Most refugees cannot express themselves. And when you go there, they’ll be pushing you back and forth, back and forth. They’ll give you an appointment for the next month. Come next month, again they’ll just listen to you. They don’t help you that much. They tell you to come next month and this person might die anytime”, she says.
Remi Kasanda says many refugees rely on health care services offered by international medical aid humanitarian group, Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF), originators of the exhibition at Constitution Hill.
“They gave me medication, something that I couldn’t afford on my own”.
Facing public health risks like anyone else in the country, these migrants are often too afraid to seek care in South Africa’s public health sector, according to MSF’s Johannesburg General Director, Dan Sermand.
“They often don’t openly seek health care at hospitals and clinics. And when they do, they face discrimination because, as one migrant told an MSF staff lately, ‘once they know you are a foreigner, the treatment is different’,” says Sermand.
Not integrating migrants into South Africa’s health care system could set back the country’s efforts to contain epidemics such as HIV and TB.
“The need for health care solutions that acknowledge the reality of people crossing borders and to assist mobile populations in distress is urgent. It is vital to ensure continuity of care as part of an appropriate response to the dual epidemic of HIV and TB in the SADC region”, Sermand warns.
Somalian refugee, Zamzam Abdirahman, says health care service providers need to act in accordance with the country’s Constitution. As a registered refugee, she holds a certificate that affords her access to rights such as health care.
“There’s a phrase written in it: ‘The holder of this certificate is entitled to socio-economic rights as provided in Chapter 2 of the Constitution, including work and study in South Africa’. That is something that they just write, but they don’t recognise it”, she says.
South Africa has a huge number of migrants coming from neighbouring African countries. In 2010 alone, there were over 200 000 applications for asylum in South Africa. This figure represents only a portion of people who need asylum. Many more desperate people seeking refuge don’t follow the formal channels and thus become undocumented migrants. The Solidarity for Survival Exhibition hopes to provoke debate and inspire South Africans to show solidarity with African migrants who face a denial of dignity and rights in a foreign country.