The restrictions of movement of people on the one hand, and the massive movement of people on the other hand, indicate that the problems we need to solve are quite different in nature, writes YUNUS OMAR.
THE world is characterised by the mass movement of millions of people from their homelands seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Added to this is the mass movement of millions of people across many other spaces as they seek security for themselves and their loved ones on the European continent. Too often, their dreams of a new life end at the bottom of the beautiful waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
The crossing from Africa to Europe is short, but in flimsy, overcrowded small craft, our African sisters and brothers face a daunting, dangerous journey as they try to escape war, terror and famine in their homelands.
In other parts of the world, there are major restrictions imposed on people’s movement. This is done through physical barriers, such as national borders, the construction of physical walls to separate people, the imposition of severe controls via visa and passport regulations, and financial barriers.
The restrictions of movement of people on the one hand, and the massive movement of people on the other hand, indicate that the problems we need to solve are quite different in nature.
South Africa faces similar issues as that confronting many countries in the world. We face mass immigration of peoples who are fleeing war, climate disasters and bleak economic futures in their home countries. When we next read of ‘undocumented immigrants’, instead of labelling our fellow Africans as ‘illegal’, maybe we should ask why our African sisters and brothers have not been granted refugee status by our institutions.
It is important that we always try to understand what is happening in the present, by looking at what has happened in the recent and more distant past. Just a few decades ago, when the bravest men and women of our country were imprisoned and tortured in the jails of apartheid; when the strongest had been hung by the apartheid state; and when all hope seemed lost, it was the African countries to our north who took in our exiles and gave them refuge while they continued the struggle for liberation from outside the borders of Apartheid South Africa.
In Lusaka, Zambia, for example, we have streets and public squares named after South African struggle heroes and heroines. Not only did the countries to our north provide a safe haven from apartheid’s killers, they also honoured our women and men by making their names a living reality in the villages, towns and cities of countries like Zambia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Namibia, to name but a few.
It is a sobering thought that, in the cities of post-Apartheid South Africa, the naming of streets and important places in honour of our heroes still find opposition, the racism disguised behind the very real (but also politically convenient) challenge of financial challenges we face as a country.
Frightening images of raging waters sent from Pakistan have stunned us all. Over one-third of Pakistan is under water. 30 million people are homeless, and the most vulnerable people, including the elderly, the sick and young children, face death even as rescue efforts escalate internally and from abroad. At the same time, floods in Europe have dried rivers and lakes. Recent heatwaves in Britain killed many. The effects of rampant capitalist destruction and exploitation of the Earth and its finite resources are on display for us.
Despite the billions of dollars and pounds spent by corporations’ public relations spin-doctors to convince us that talking about climate devastation is a ‘debate’, we know that it is beyond ‘a difference of opinion about the facts’, as their highly-paid writers-for-hire tell us. Earth is being destroyed in our lifetimes.
The way we look at ‘problems’ can lead to poor conclusions, and very bad actions. We must ask ourselves what the common issue is that sits at the heart of all these local and global problems.
Quite simply, it is that the powerful dominate the less powerful. The powerful own the resources; they own the mines; they own the ships and harbours; and they own the media that then pumps out the garbage that tries to tell us that all is well, even though we can see the problems in front of us.
Too often, the scale of the problems we face makes us timid. We think we cannot change anything. Yet, each time we set foot on the streets to protest and air our views here and elsewhere in the world, we are met with brute force. Those in power do not tolerate the truth being told on the streets.
If we are to change the lives of those who have been uprooted from their homes through military violence; through other armed conflicts; because of environmental devastation of their lands, and through sheer hunger-desperation, we have to realise that we cannot survive at the expense of the deeply impoverished majority.
The other way to live, of course, is to pretend that these issues are of no concern to us. Sadly, that is the way we are taught to live by the very people who are accumulating vulgar profits while they destroy the Earth.
- Yunus Omar (PhD) lectures in the School of Education at the University of Cape Town. He writes in his personal capacity.