Saturday, September 05, 2009

A missed opportunity

The following OpEd mirrors almost exactly the views yours truly expressed when the Canadian refugee case came to light. Instead of attacking the victim, a responsible caring government would seek to determine why he felt it necessary to seek asylum and calm his and others' fears - but then we are talking about terrorists here and a leopard never changes its spots.

From Our Opinion: Daily Dispatch

In their knee-jerk response to the decision of the immigration board in Ottawa, Ontario, to grant refugee status to a South African man, Brandon Huntley, the South African government missed a golden opportunity: to acknowledge the fears that exist among many white South Africans and to attempt to deal with them constructively.

While the truth is that poor black South Africans are those who are hardest hit by crime, there is a perception that white South Africans are getting short shrift in their country by virtue of their race.

Certainly perceptions are not reality, but such feelings are heightened when the likes of ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema uses a public platform at an international airport (where foreign journalists, possibly Canadians, are present) to attack white South Africans for failing to come to meet an athlete.

And his comments are not isolated. Government ministers and judges have also made racially divisive remarks.

Such inflammatory comments only serve to compound the perceptions around race differences.

When one adds black economic empowerment to the mix and the fact that countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada are making immigration virtually impossible for anyone without highly sought-after skills or masses of money, then an application for refugee status by a white South African who could not fill this criteria was bound to happen at some stage.

The challenge, then, was how the State would handle it when it happened.

Our government was clearly embarrassed and immediately went onto the offensive, making counter-accusations of racism and demanding an explanation from the Canadian authorities.

The problem is that this does not begin to get to the root of the real problems that lie at the heart of this matter.

Imagine if government had instead acknowledged the fears felt by Huntley, assured the world that every effort was being made to safeguard all of South Africa’s citizens from criminals, and urged Huntley to return home with a message of “together we can”.

This would not have ignored the possibility that Huntley is perhaps an opportunist or that his claim of being attacked seven times may not even be authentic, or that all South Africans are being traumatised by crime – not just whites.

What it would have done, however, is recognise that Huntley is driven by fear – and that he is not alone in this.

It would also have portrayed government as a bridge-building, colour-blind protector.

Imagine the impact of such a message, not only on Huntley, but on South Africans both white and black and in the international arena.

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