July 08, 2008

When violence aimed at foreign nationals broke out in Johannesburg and Cape Town, MSF provided medical assistance to people who sought refuge in police stations, community halls, and churches.



South Africa, 2008 © Benedicte Kurzen/EVE

Violence aimed at foreign nationals broke out in Johannesburg, South Africa, on May 11 and spread into Cape Town days later, displacing an estimated 100,000 people and wounding thousands. Patients affected by the violence, which was reportedly fueled by anger over unemployment, suffered gunshot wounds, head traumas, wounds resulting from beatings, lacerations, burns, and other injuries. MSF treated the displaced where they gathered for safety—in police stations, churches, and community halls. The MSF physician in this photograph spent the evening consulting with people living in and around a police station. These shelters quickly became overcrowded and unsanitary; people slept inside in crowded masses or outside the buildings, vulnerable to attack, as well as the elements.

MSF worked to provide immediate emergency medical assistance and established a regular presence with mobile medical teams in 15 sites. As of May 30, MSF had treated more than 2,500 patients and was distributing blankets, hygiene kits, and plastic sheeting to the sites where the needs are most dire. “Our patients have already been traumatized by the violence they have suffered and the abhorrent conditions of displacement,” said MSF nurse Bianca Tolboom.