Kgomotso Matsunyane

Misplaced solutions

2008-06-05 08:31

Kgomotso Matsunyane

All I wanted this week was go back to my simple life where I write about my single, middle class woman angst, and let this xenophobia mess disappear into a vortex, but it hasn't. It's getting messier, albeit somewhat calmer.

Fascinating how the surburbanites, who were so quick to criticise the people of the informal settlements for mistreating "foreigners" are now all in a huff and a puff about a camp closer to home.

Some of the letters responding to my report backs from Jeppe Police Station were saying "Charity begins at home, so I can't help foreigners before I help my own people". Fair enough, if you really do in your daily life already help out your "own" people. But when I challenge many people to tell me how they've been helping out, I've been met with a deafening silence.

I never talk about what I do in my own capacity for my community, because I think to do so would be tacky and I consider it my civic duty, so advertising it takes away from my ultimate intention, which is to make a difference - however minute the impact. But maybe if more of us talk about what we do every day, it would encourage others to do the same.

Feeling overwhelmed by trying to help the larger group, I have been focusing my energy on helping out a smaller group of women at the camp. Sometimes all people want is to talk and to share.

Still happening

One of the women at the camp, I'll call her Ann, was so sick as to not be able to get up to queue for her own food. She was so listless I did not think she could survive for too long. Her biggest problem was her inability to feel warm, so I got my mom to donate an old duvet and some pillows to help make her more comfortable.

When I saw her two days ago Ann was a better picture of health, even though she still spent the vast majority of the day horizontally.

On Friday Ann's husband left her to go check out the scene "outside". He disappeared for four days, and Ann asked me to try and find him by phone. Cell phones are one of the only items that a lot of the displaced have, a life-line to family and friends outside the camp.

Her husband finally came back yesterday, all black and blue from a beating. Maybe Zimbabwe is a more viable option after all.

The camp is slowly but surely emptying out. The refugees were supposed to be relocated on Sunday, but it didn't happen. Again they were to be moved on Tuesday, but this also did not happen. By the end of the week, buses are expected to come in and take more people back to their respective countries.

Terrible message

I'm convinced that the mass bussing of people back to their respective countries is a misplaced solution. It means those who believe that foreigners are a nuisance and must be removed from our society, have in fact succeeded. It might be a temporary reprieve, but in the long run it sends a terrible message - both locally and to our neighbours.

As we're getting close to observing June 16th, a significant day on our political and historical calendar, I can't help but think of all the young South Africans who left their homes 32 years ago, with the apartheid government hot on their heels, to seek refuge in Botswana, Mocambique, Swaziland, Lesotho, Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya - and the people who housed, clothed, and marched with them to bring down the evil empire.

I think about all South Africans living abroad at this very minute, and I wonder how they are feeling the pinch of being foreigners in a world increasingly hostile to emigrants, and how they would react to being viciously kicked out of their newly established havens.

Here's what I find curious: In a year where you battle to find one person who voted for Thabo Mbeki anymore, those who voted for apartheid are feeling so vindicated and so empowered that their voices are getting louder, and more disturbingly, prouder.

What's up with that?

  • Kgomotso Matsunyane is a writer, producer and partner at T.O.M. Pictures, an award winning TV and film production company in Jo'burg.

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