Look at the why, not at the word

2012-03-24 09:31

Once again it is the poor who have fallen victim to politicians exploiting language for their ends.

Until this week, the term “refugee” was understood in its basic, dictionary meaning of someone fleeing from some danger – especially political or economic.

This week we chose to focus on what we call the people who make the trip when we should have asked why they had to make the trip in the first place.

We also ignored why those who make the trip feel excluded once they get to their preferred destination.

Two issues remain untouched as we obsess over when a refugee is a refugee. One is that the Eastern Cape, especially the rural part of the province, continues to resemble a failed state.

The lack of political balls is best reflected by the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union, which can hold the education system to ransom knowing that in an ANC election year, nobody with political ambitions will dare speak out against their crime against black children.

This week, as we did last week, this newspaper runs another horror story about the state of education the poor children in the Eastern Cape are getting.

It is telling that it is Buffalo City in the Eastern Cape, and not Cape Town, that has the widest gap between rich and poor in South Africa and, depending on whom you believe, in the world.

It does not take a migration studies degree to figure out that anyone who has a child in that education system will want to escape it if they can,just like those people trapped in Zimbabwe at the height of the economic meltdown knew they had to get out of there.

Call them what you will, the fact is that human beings leave their homes in search of better lives elsewhere.

They do this, among other reasons, because of poor political decisions.

Successive Gauteng ministers of housing and education have complained of people migrating from other parts of the country into the province and thus adding to the housing waiting list and the need for more classrooms.

They may not have used the same terminology as the premier of the Western Cape, but we would be
fooling ourselves if we thought they did not mean the same thing Zille means.

Instead of shouting so loudly to hide the real issues, perhaps we should focus on why those who make the trip have to do so, instead of what we call them.

The Eastern Cape needs fixing, and it needs fixing very fast.

The second issue is that the Western Cape should also accept that many Africans who live there do not feel welcome.

It does not help to dismiss them as “wrong” to feel that way or postulate that they have been instructed by the DA’s political enemies to feel that way.

Instead of its permanently defensive posture, the DA-led provincial government should acknowledge the perceptions of Africans who live in the Western Cape and start efforts to make them feel as if they do belong.

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