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Meet Joel N. He is one face of the 19,000 foreigners who have been displaced by the recent riots in South Africa.

He is not the face, thankfully, of one of the 62 who have been killed. Neither is he the face of those victims seething with rage — like Abdul Jama, 32, a Somali father of two who told a local reporter:

I left Mogadishu in 2005 to open a shop in Orange Farm, in Johannesburg. They shoot my partner. They kill him. Then I come to Khayelitsha [an informal settlement outside of Cape Town]. They chase me here. South African government does nothing. F*** government. F*** South Africa. Government say sorry? F*** sorry. Only two things. We go home. Or we go other country. America. Or Australia. South Africa? F*** it. Now is finished here. We're not stay here. F*** South African people.

Joel N is not angry, partly because he has not had any friends killed, and partly because he is a Christian whose faith appears to be a solid rock in a crashing sea of violence and unrest. He spoke to me in calm, measured tones, a man of quiet dignity, one who knows who he is and what he is about — even though it remains very unclear what the next few weeks and months hold for him.

I spoke with him in a community hall in a northern suburb of Cape Town. A few nights earlier, refugees from a local settlement, De Noon, packed the hall. The room where the men slept is the size of two basketball courts. Rolled-up sleeping bags, blankets, and piles of clothes line the walls — indicating the presence now of only 40 or 50 men, most of whom were gone for the day looking for work. Joel already had a job (in pebble paving), and had the day off.

"When we came here, we found [South African] friends, people who called us friends. … They ...

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June 2008

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