NEWS & ANALYSIS

Zille's refugee remarks: A comment from Bitou

Kenny Leluma says the DA leader's remarks play into the hands of racists in her party

Unless you are black and live in the Western Cape, you are likely to agree that Helen Zille's remark about blacks being refugees in their own country was not racist, or likely to stoke racial tensions. But for many of us living in the Western Cape any explanation would be like watching someone trying to paint the sky red.  

Zille leads a party which is a home of apartheid era overt and covert security operatives who loathe black people, especially those who don't see whites as a superior breed. These are the people who still believe that blacks in the Western Cape "must go back where they came from", and by that they mean the Eastern Cape regions of Transkei and Ciskei.

Let's take Bitou (or Plett if you like) as an example. Some whites in this town complain that as the town borders the Eastern Cape, many blacks from Transkei sojourn here on their way to Cape Town, and some end up staying. They complain that "these people" deplete resources that should be used for the ratepayers (read whites) of the town.

A prominent white public health worker once complained in a council meeting that the town's Day Clinic was under pressure because of blacks from the Eastern Cape. She then asked; "why can't they be told to go back where they came from or pass over to Cape Town". Obviously, she was rebuked, but she had confirmed subtle references that had been known for all along.

Another white official said it was expensive to develop the Bossiesgif/Qolweni area because of its topography. This was a valid point. But he then muddied his statement by saying that "the ANC councillors must find a way of stopping these people from coming to Plett".

Then a DA's ward candidate who lost in the 2006 local government elections remarked, "you only won because you guys of the ANC bring these people from the Eastern Cape to vote for you". This is the same person who is opposed to the development of Bossiesgif/Qolweni.

In addition to the burden of the Group Areas Act, the apartheid government made it illegal to establish a township in towns like Plett. So there was never any proper housing for black people in the town until the dawn of democracy.

On the other hand the town is highly developed, and it was logical to put more resources to a newly established township of Kwanokuthula. This enraged many so-called "Plett proper". They felt that "die inkomers" (the outsiders - and now refugees according to Zille) were encroaching on their turf to benefit on their land and financial resources.

When the ANC-led council decided to relocate the main library in a traditional Coloured area, a small but highly influential group of white people objected. They did so despite assurances being given that the library in white town wouldn't be closed. The DA MEC threatened to halt the move because he felt that those who complained had a valid reason. Coloureds and "refugees" must go to town for books as whites who have better means of transport must be protected from driving to the townships.

A few days before Zille's remark, there was a reported stand-off among Grabouw residents, and the incident took a racial turn. Some of the things said by the residents on TV exposed the racial undertones dressed with genuine concern for public property. We saw pictures of Black kids being beaten just because they are Black.

Zille can't pretend that she doesn't know all or some of these things and utterances from ordinary to senior members of her party. It is in this context that her remarks are unfortunate. Zille might not be a racist. But her remarks are typical reckless liberal statement that plays in the hands of racists in her party.

It's obvious that the DA's recent successes have gone to Zille's head. If she really cared, she could have explained what she meant and retracted the statement anyway. Saying I'm sorry wouldn't have made her a villain. Black people are a forgiving lot. She must also know that a honey gatherer doesn't kick the beehives, but that "pride comments before the fall."

Kenny Leluma is was formerly political advisor to the ANC executive mayor of Bitou

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