Recently, African residents in Grabouw, Western Cape, staged a protest over the lack of a proper and adequate school for mainly Xhosa and Sotho learners. For some reason or the other, the protest became a violent exchange between the African and Coloured parts of that community. When approached for comment by the media, both the DA provincial leader, Theuns Botha, and Western Cape MEC for education, Donald Grant, said that the protest was due to the "ANC's ongoing campaign to make the Western Cape ungovernable".
On 20 March 2012, Ms Helen Zille, leader of the Democratic Alliance and premier of the Western Cape Province, in defence of her two subordinates, made a comment on her profile page on Twitter (www.twitter.com/@helenzille) in which she refers to people moving from the Eastern Cape to the Western Cape, as "refugees". This comment has drawn scores of criticism, which Ms Zille either ignored, or in some cases, answered very negatively.
Although, as a Coloured myself, I am not counted by Ms Zille as a refugee, I still feel the need to rise in defence of my fellow citizens, who, despite great inequalities and often open racism against them, still move to the Western Cape to seek a better life.
The majority of these people coming to my province from our eastern neighbour happen to be African, and I can't help feeling that it was actually aimed at them.
South Africa is a signatory to the 1954 United Nations Convention to the Status of Refugees, the 1967 Refugee Protocol and the Organisation of African Unity's (AOU) Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. Nowhere in these document could I find an internationally definition for internally displaced people as refugees, as Ms Zille seem to suggest.
In our own Constitution (Act 106 of 1996, as amended by the Constitution 16th Amendment Act of 2009), we find the following:
1. Preamble: "... believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity..."
2. Section 1: "The Republic of South Africa is one, sovereign, democratic state found on the following values: (b) non-racialism"
3. Section 3 (2): "All citizens are: (a) equally entitled to the rights, privileges and benefits of citizenship."
4. Section 10: "Everyone has the right to dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected."
5. Section 21 (3): "Everyone has the right to enter, to remain and to reside anywhere in the country."
Our Constitution was written for all people of South Africa, not just a select few, based on race, gender, geographical location, or any other social standing. If this premise is accepted as true, Ms Zille is in contravention of her oath of office as the premier of the Western Cape, in that she fails to uphold, protect and promote the Constitution. (Schedule 2 (5)).
Only taking into account the above five points, she has:
1. Created division among the people of South Africa, by equating people from the Eastern Cape Province to foreigners, whilst they are still on their home soil.
2. Given the fact that the majority of Eastern Cape citizens who comes to the Western Cape to look for better economic situation, happen to be African (versus a majority Coloured population of the Western Cape), Ms Zille has polarised and caused further racial tension between Africans and Coloureds. She is eerily silent on the fact that people come to the Western Cape from other provinces, and that some of them are not Africans.
3. If we accept that the Western Cape Province is a bastion of the rights, privileges and benefits associated with citizenship, as could be gleaned from the rest of Ms Zille's tweet, she seeks to deny our fellow citizens from the Eastern Cape these rights, privileges and benefits.
4. Ms Zille, in my humble opinion, shows utter disregard for the dignity of people from the Eastern Cape who comes to the Western Cape by referring to them as "refugees".
5. Ms Zille seems to have a desire, whether private or public, to deny people of South Africa the right to enter the Western Cape Province, to remain here and to reside anywhere in the Province. This is true especially if you are from the Eastern Cape - except if you are a tourist, or in transit.
A couple of years ago, South Africa felt a collective shame after xenophobic violence tarnished our national image in almost all provinces. The incident in Grabouw has the potential to create a huge event of Coloured/African violence on a province-wide scale. Although Ms Zille made this comment on her private Twitter profile, and in her capacity as DA leader, in South Africa it is extremely difficult for people to distinguish between a person's political and public office.
Therefore, the statement by Ms Zille has the potential to be seen as official, since she happens to be the premier of the Western Cape. This could have the effect of further blowing racism in a city and province which is already seen by many as the most racial in the country in both categories.
It is my opinion that Ms Zille acted irresponsibly, and out of character for someone occupying such high public office as she does. She owes the people of South Africa in general, those from the Eastern Cape in particular an apology; and she needs to make reparations. She should be told that what she did was extremely dangerous, as it could jeopardise our democracy and be the cause for even civil war.
I have written to the South African Human Rights Commission to complain about this, and asked them to find that her words are dangerous, as they are incitement, and thus could be declared hate speech. I have also written the office of the Public Protector, because clearly Zille feels nothing for the oath she swore when she assumed the office of the premier.
MOEGAMAT SHAREEF BLANKENBERG
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