The opportunity society or Zillestan?

2012-03-24 09:27

People from outside the province often wryly quip that you need a passport to enter the Western Cape, where the people are perceived to be a little snobbish.

Lately, I’ve heard more and more black friends joke that they wouldn’t travel there without a dompas. But behind the funny is a sting.

Although the province has always been beset by racial squabbles, some people have, rightly or wrongly, perceived these to have become more pronounced under Premier Helen Zille, and the Western Cape a separatist boerestaat of sorts.

Zille isn’t helping the matter. Her reference to Eastern Cape education “refugees” in a recent tweet was particularly insensitive.

A more correct, and generally more acceptable, word would have been “migrant”.

Although she probably meant to use the term in the context of people who find “refuge” in a good education system in the Western Cape, the term “refugees” more accurately refers to people who cross national boundaries.

It betrayed what Zille, the leader of a strongly federalist party, thinks of her province and the impenetrability of the borders around it.

To her, and many in the DA who support her views, the province is a country above the other provinces, which are ANC-controlled.

There is also perhaps a fear in her party that migrants from the Eastern Cape, a province with an ANC majority, will grow the ANC’s supporter base and diminish the DA’s share of the vote.

It’s all a bit rich coming from someone who was born in Gauteng.

Her reasons for moving to the Western Cape are irrelevant, and they should be. She, like all citizens of South Africa, has the right to live wherever she chooses.

Even the Constitution entrenches this freedom of movement.

But by applying the term “refugee” to poor people who move across provincial borders in search of a better education, she implies that they have less right than a rich person to move around freely in their own country.

Her “othering” of the Eastern Cape migrants could also inspire a kind of provincial xenophobia. Does Zille not know that for a long time black people have been considered by some in her province as intruders?

This comes partly from the apartheid era of Bantustans and the racial classification of coloured people as one step up the ladder from blacks.

Does she really not get how deep the hurt cuts on this issue? And then she claims she wants to expand her voter base among black people.

Her insensitivity and wrongly pitched tone will see this base alienated in no time.

It is only natural for people to move to a place where they conceive that they can find better opportunities, or a better life.

Zille quite correctly intended to aim her jibe at the wreck that is the Eastern Cape education department. Instead, in the process, she actually denigrated the small, vulnerable people.

This can’t be right.

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