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Charity ends at home

2010-07-21 15:17
The article was wrapped around the heartbreaking story of a South African who had emigrated to England, and hadn’t seen his father in over ten years when he returned to visit with his fiancé, just a few months before they were to be married.

They were having lunch under an old oak tree at one of Cape Town’s more expensive wine farm restaurants when tragedy struck, cancelling the wedding and ruining everyone’s appetite. A huge, rotting branch from the oak tree took this moment to succumb to gravity, crushing the groom-to-be. With his father and fiancé kneeling over him, he died a few minutes later.

"Did you at least not charge them for lunch?" I asked the restaurant manager a few days later, who glared at me as if I’d just called his mother a whore. I don’t handle tragedy very well, especially when confronted with an entire restaurant staff who’ve been instructed to say nothing but "no comment!" to me like they were movie stars.

"South African oaks are all mutants," explained some guy I’d refer to in my article as an 'expert botanist' because he worked at Kirstenbosch gardens and knew a hell of a lot about trees and stuff. He explained to me that oak trees, much like white people, aren’t ideally suited to the hot South African sun. Their branches grow fast, but weak, and because they’re soft and not properly formed, they’re prone to internal rot. I’m talking about the oak trees now, by the way.

So anyway, that was my angle. This was at a time when environmental consciousness was all the rage (I remember some hippie telling me to go easy on the Post-It notes because I was killing the rainforests) and the alien vegetation problem was an issue of dinner party proportions. Port Jackson trees were the biggest villains because... I have no idea. I didn’t care enough to find out why, but everyone hated Port Jacksons.

Now I had a tragic human interest story with a socio-political hook. I ended the article with an appeal to eliminate killer mutant oak trees from our then squeaky-clean rainbow nation.

It wasn’t the first or the last time I wrote something that made everyone hate me. My family and friends were shocked that I would say such nasty things about their precious, beautiful oak trees.

"But they’re aliens," I’d argue.

"That’s different," they’d reply. "Why don’t you rather write something about those horrible Port Jacksons?"

Returning to this week, it seems that right now, Zimbabweans are the new Port Jacksons. Sure, we may very well be the most xenophobic country in the world, but this doesn’t mean we’ve lost the ability to appropriately target our fear and loathing. The Irish pub down the road and the German deli in my local shopping centre remain blissfully untouched by one of this country’s greatest problems.

Now I don’t want to make this all about race. After all, this is the new South Africa, and we’ve put racial hatred aside to join the rest of the Western world in hating poor people instead. Haven’t we?

Anyhow, I don’t think many News24 users were thinking about my thousands of German neighbours when they cast their vote in the "how do we solve the xenophobia problem" poll on the front page a few days ago. The option of "getting tough on Africa’s leaders" (emphasis mine) – which correctly implies we’re only worried about immigrants from our own continent – came in at only 18%.

The "outreach programmes in the communities" option won a mere 12% - despite the vuvuzela-like constant whining about the lack of education in this country. Funny, that.

But both proactive options paled to insignificance compared to the whopping 64% vote for the reactive, don’t-make-your-problems-mine "stricter border controls" option. So much for the spirit of ubuntu.

And cherry-topping this depressing result was the 6% vote for "what xenophobia problem?", which I suspect must have come from my ass-in-the-butter German neighbours.

Being the misanthrope I am, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there are lots of stupid, useless people in this world I’d rather see in another postal code, but I also think it’s a bit unfair to target one particular country. Or economic group. Or culture. Or race. Choose whichever one makes you feel the least guilty.

We may need better border control, but we also need the douchebag-ness educated out of us so that we treat immigrants equally. As it stands, we’ll need to burn down a few more Irish pubs and German delis if we’re going to even out the balance. Sure, people aren’t equal, but they’re even less so if they’re not treated as such.

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