Friday, September 04, 2009

Whitewashed

I am white and I am afraid.

I am not afraid because I am white. I am not afraid because others are black or Indian or coloured. I am afraid because I am the survivor of crime in South Africa. I am afraid because I anticipate that I will have to survive more crime before my life is over. I am afraid because my life has been and is governed by reckless politicians, patriarchy among the leadership, racist and unequal apartheid policies, and fear of diversity.

A South African sought asylum in Canada. He was granted refugee status because he provided compelling evidence that his life was in danger, and that he was afraid. He used his race as an element of his explanation for himself as a target and in doing so ensured that South Africa once again became the target of international scrutiny. He didn’t cite his class or his gender. He didn’t cite his sexuality. He didn’t cite his religious beliefs or educational qualifications. He chose his race and placed this at the centre of his analysis, claiming that the government had not and would not be able to provide security for him. This action has been viewed negatively by the government, and has been viewed with envy by a number of South Africans of all colours who do not have the opportunity to escape a climate of fear.

He is a refugee, but what has he been saved from? He has not saved others from further crime in South Africa. His actions have done little to disseminate respect and love for difference, but have created difference as something to be afraid of. His action will create defensiveness on the part of the accused and fear on the part of other people who have not had the opportunity to flee. His action has not contributed to the lessening of my own fear because he is just another person who has refused to participate in his community and make a change where he could. He was a survivor of crime who could have lessened the suffering of others by providing a kind word of support, a shared smile of empathy and an embrace when one was needed.

He has not saved himself from disrespect based on skin colour. Refugees are the first victims of fear when economic conditions change. Perhaps a moderate place like Canada may be less stratified than other places but in times of scarce resources it is those whose roots in a country are not immediately evident who are the first to become scapegoats. Xenophobia is alive and well across the world and his could contribute to continued and deepened xenophobia against other people who are regarded as un-African or not quite South African enough.

Do his actions have any positive effects? I will put my neck on the line here in the hope that my statements are not seen as representative of an entire race, gender or population group. I think they could. I think that they could return scrutiny to South Africa, which has startling crime statistics and is a country with such a high incidence of rape it could be likened to sexual genocide. I think that scrutiny needs to be returned because crime cannot disappear while inequality is present. When most South Africans have little or no access to security, have little or no access to economic empowerment, have little or no access to savings, food and healthcare then the crime that this refugee feared will continue. When South Africans who have access to privilege, profit and property do not share, do not contribute in their community and continue to laugh when racist jokes are told then crime will not disappear. It is time for us all to take responsibility, to give back and to invest in others.

Desperate times breed desperate behaviour and I hope that his action will stimulate desperate and rapid action on the part of government to do something about crime rather than to sit over tea and complain about racism while looking out at their beautiful gardens through burglar-barred windows.

My name is Jennifer Thorpe. I am 24 years old with an MA in politics and a deep commitment to women’s rights. I am an activist who works for several NGOs while looking for a permanent job. I am a South African who feels the fear of crime and hates looking through burglar bars at the ocean. Source

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