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Prominent gender activist and academic Mikki van Zyl was found dead at the Protea Hotel Parktonian in Braamfontein last week.
Van Zyl was staying at the hotel during a visit to Wits University for a workshop jointly hosted by the Wits African Centre for Migration & Society and the university of Bergen’s Centre for Women’s and Gender Research.
A source at the Protea Parktonian told Wits Vuvuzela van Zyl had died of a heart attack but this could not be confirmed. Her body was discovered by by hotel staff early on Thursday morning.
Professor Melissa Steyn, of the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies spoke to Wits Vuvuzela about van Zyl, describing her as a close friend. “She was my best friend, I feel like a schoolgirl saying that but she really has been because we wrote two books together on sexuality in South Africa, Steyn said. Steyn described her longtime academic collaborator as “unfailing, strong and determined, she really gave everything she had.”
Van Zyl has contributed significantly to both gender activism and the anti-apartheid struggle for over 20 years.
Van Zyl graduated from UCT (University of Cape Town) with a degree in Communication and Media Studies, and a MPhil in Sociology. She has lectured in media studies, sociology, criminology and diversity studies.
According to Steyn, van Zyl was also an instrumental in setting up diversity studies at UCT along with disability studies. In 1993 she started her own business for gender and capacity development, Simply Said and Done.
CORRECTION: The original article initially said that the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) was the African Centre for Immigration and Society (ACIS) when it should have read the former. Wits Vuvuzela regrets the error which has been corrected.
Foreign national traders living in Braamfontein face challenges that deplete the quality of their lives.
Vanya Gastrow is a researcher for the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS). She says one of the biggest challenges are the high levels of crime against foreign national traders as well as corporate competition.
“Some traders also experience red tape problems, especially in the spaza market, where local authorities are often misinformed or in disagreement about the laws governing spaza shops,” Said Gastrow.
“We as foreigners face a lot of difficulties as we are not opportune to get jobs,” said Cameroon-national Edwin Chi who works at Big Brother Salon in Braamfontein. He added that most foreign nationals in South Africa survive by starting their own businesses because “vacancies [for jobs] are reserved for South Africans no matter how qualified you are, as a foreigner you won’t get the job”.
Chi explained that a few weeks ago the salon he works at was robbed by police who said they were looking for illegal activity in the shop. Chi said they were told as foreigners they have no rights in South Africa. “They were searching, searching and when they left we realised they had taken all the money.”
SA Police Service (SAPS) Lieutenant Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said he were unaware of the alleged xenophobic attack since a case had not been opened by the shop owner. Unless a case was opened “we cannot comment on the issue,” Dlamini said.
Immanuel Adu manages another local salon. He said: “unless you have the right documents, it’s very difficult to get help from the government, you also can’t get loans from banks to start a business”.
Gastrow explained: “Another challenge is lack of access to reliable documentation. Asylum seeker and refugee permits often don’t meet documentation requirements for banks, visa offices, and landlords.”
“These permits also require frequent renewals, resulting in traders needing to reapply for bank accounts or trading permits each time their documentation nears expiry.” Gastrow added that foreign nationals cannot open bank accounts access loans, import and export goods, or get premises for their shops.
During the xenophobic attacks in 2008 and now in recent months South Africans accused foreign nationals of taking their jobs and over populating “their areas”. Chi and other foreign nationals told Wits Vuvuzela that it was better to live amongst themselves in the city than in the townships because it’s safer.
Gastrow said foreign traders bring small business skills into the country. “They pass these skills on to those they work with. Some traders also study towards degrees and diplomas … and then contribute to South Africa’s formal work force.”
ACMS hosted a seminar at Wits University earlier this week about the earnings of informal foreign traders in and around Johannesburg in light of the xenophobia many foreign nationals are faced with.