Kgomotso Matsunyane

Perspective is everything

2008-05-29 09:06

Kgomotso Matsunyane

As I write this, I'm comfortably cocooned in my bed. The electric blanket is on and toasty, my belly is full, I am gainfully employed, there are no power cuts scheduled for this week, and I have a room and a home that I can call my own.

Best of all, there are no panga wielding mobs outside my door, baying for my blood.

I've spent some time, every day for the past week, at the Jeppe Police Station. At first as a volunteer for an organisation called ROAK (Random Acts of Kindness) and a church group called MES. But now I've just been going back to counsel people; talking to displaced women and children in particular, who have unfortunately found themselves as guests of the Police Station.

I'm encouraged and astounded by how South Africans have risen to the occasion and come to the rescue - God knows we've needed to because the government is acting like such a bunch of lame ducks just about now.

While some of us have embarrassed the country by lashing out at the most vulnerable members of our society, many of us have in turn contributed blankets, jerseys, much needed food and shelter to victims of the recent spate of xenophobic attacks.

While initially I was fundamentally depressed by the savagery and enormity of the situation, my attention has shifted. Why does it take such a catastrophe for us to give a well deserved middle finger to the government, take charge and give help where it is needed?

And our generosity has not gone unnoticed. Some of the Zimbabwean women I talked to yesterday tell me straight: "If we were in Zimbabwe, we could never escape to a police station. The cops would beat us up. Here, we get two meals per day, blankets and protection."

Perspective is everything.

Revenge and Red Ants

One of the biggest concerns by South Africans is that the people we have been so cruel to; burning them, hacking them with axes and looting their shacks, will come back to exact revenge.

A security guard at the meeting spot for volunteers shares with me: "You guys are making us hungry with all this food. Please tell them that we're not all like this, and I hope they don't attack us in revenge like we attacked them."

I'm astounded that the notorious and thuggish Red Ants have been deployed to the police station (24/7) to help keep control. I really want to know: who owns the Red Ants? From what I've read in newspaper reports, these are people whose main purpose is to evacuate obstinate tenants from buildings. From what I have seen this week, I don't care much for them.

Their members peddle all manner of contraband into the camp. They have now also become a part of the problem, while deployed as part of the solution. Just on Saturday I was counselling a 13 year old girl from the DRC, who has officially laid a charge of attempted rape against one of the Red Ants.

Her mother tells me how this is the second time in their lives the family has had to run. During the last elections in her country, her husband, a Pemba supporter, sent her a frantic SMS while she was in church to tell her not to come back home as they were being attacked by Kabila supporters.

That was the last time she heard from him She has since made her way to Johannesburg and has been working as a hawker in the city centre. She has asylum from the South African government. Returning to the DRC is simply not an option for her, but staying in Johannesburg doesn't seem much of an option either.

No Privacy, No dignity

She sits her with two other women she calls her sisters, and their entire group makes a family of 10. The family is unfortunate enough to be situated right at the entrance of the tent, an area the size of a door. Literally, they cannot go to bed until people stop walking in and out of the tent. There is no privacy here.

And with the disappearance of privacy, dignity falls far behind. There are many tears shed. I see many pregnant women or and small children. Refugee camps are the stuff of serious testosterone.

For every foul thought I've had about "uneducated and violent Zulu" taxi drivers, the "scheming Xhosa Nostra" or the "cowardly Tswanas" (my own peeps); for every thought of the "boring and stupid Pedis" or "racist whites" - and whatever other prejudices lie in my heart about "others", I am mortified at the results of what happens when those seemingly harmless thoughts are ignited in a sea of ignorance.

  • Kgomotso Matsunyane is a writer, producer & partner at T.O.M. Pictures, an award winning TV & Film Company in Jo'burg.

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