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Refugees: Welcome to Hell

13 April 2012, 19:36

On Saturday, while many Capetownians were running through leafy suburbs from one ocean to another and while others drank and/or sang themselves to stupor in celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a unique group of about fifty people staged their second annual Welcome to Hell “Crucession” from Gugulethu to Khayelitsha.

Drenched by the pouring rain despite wearing black garbage bags, we walked, sang and danced a full 16.3 kilometres without even a peep of attention from the local newspapers. I participated in the march, which was organised by the controversial Way of Life Church based in Mandela Park in Khayelitsha because of its message that reminds all of us that 18 years since the fall of the National Party, the ghettoised townships where the poor majority are forced to live, remain a living hell.

While the scourge of shack-fires in the townships can be solved politically with a real authentic commitment to service delivery, this is only a facelift solution to the real problems of poor blacks. Indeed, recent fires in Kennedy Road in Durban and QQ Section here in Khayelitsha demonstrate that a simple inexpensive electrification and blocking of shack settlements will remove almost all threats of fires from these communities. It's a simple technical task which governments continue to eschew in the name of keeping these decades old settlements 'temporary'.

And while more efficient and equal service delivery might make the inferno of township life more palatable, it does next to nothing to demolish the everlasting torment of the ghetto.

Each and every participant that day knew that apartheid remains; that the long walk to freedom could not be solved with a few RDP homes, some job training and the racist separate-but-equal mantra that hides beneath a class-based system of segregation that makes Cape Town one of the most unequal and racist cities in the world.

Despite how the Democratic Alliance views it, structural racism cannot be quantified by the number of instances someone gets refused entry into a dance club. Instead it is present everyday in the very make-up of the socio-economic fabric of society; in the way police ignore poor blacks' attempts to lay charges of theft, in the way security guards only watch over black shoppers, and in the way politicians address occupations of Chappies while criminalising township protests.

Only a city turned on its head could confidently cry provincialism and label poor blacks from the Eastern Cape refugees in their own country when in fact it was the forsaken European socio-economic outcasts who colonised Africa and the rest of the world. Helen Zille, whose parents were both displaced persons from Nazi Germany, would never admit that township children who attend Model C schools are education refugees from Cape Town's ghetto.

Still, both inequalities are one and the same.

The small march which proclaimed in one of its' banners that “All Whites are Refugees” was reminding us of this contradiction. Poor blacks in South Africa are perpetually being made into foreigners in their own land, not because of inefficient service delivery, but because of white supremacist capitalism: a system which stole the land, colonised the mind, is now trying to hide this fact by proclaiming political equality and a façade of equal opportunities.

The unequal development of capitalism throughout the world, in South Africa, in Cape Town and even within the family structure, is a feature of the oppressive, racist and misogynistic society we live in.

Hell remains hell even if its residents can now buy food at their local PnP or forget the heat while watching Generations on a brand new flat screen. Botox merely hides the cold-blooded violence beneath.

Pastor Xola Skosana of the Way of Life Church explained this after his Jesus had HIV sermon that he interprets the story of Easter as indicating that Jesus put himself in the shoes of all people who experience oppression.

Yet as the shackdwellers movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo points out, no one will ever be able to solve their problems “for us, without us”. What more, then, can one do but build more consciousness of structural oppression and through that more peoples power? Even a small group of 50 committed people can remind us that enough is enough. Eventually, somewhere, somehow, something will click and the rest of us will leave behind our dumpies, soapies and other opiates and come join them.

It is up to us, the people, to resurrect the spirit of resistance.

Is that not what the Son of Man was trying to remind us all along?

Jared Sacks is an activist with the Take Back the Commons Movement and works at the Children of South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.

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