South Africa Antjie Krog

Antjie Krog
Photo: Goethe-Institut Johannesburg

When I read these questions, anger rises in me. They pretend innocence. They fake concern and lack of knowledge: we really don’t know, can somebody please help us. Yet every question carries the unmistakable fingerprints of the powerful, those who will never be refugees, those powerful enough to coin extravagant nuances: political refugee, poverty refugee, environmental refugee.

By far the worst thing about these questions is that it projects the assumption that if “we” only know and understand, then “we” can truly effectively change the plight of refugees. So, if “we” all agree that political refugees are the best kind of refugee (they at least have principles and probably jobs), then “we” will take in 1.2 million instead of the million we initially planned. Thank you for confirming that those fleeing poverty are the worst kind: swarming to us as uneducated young macho males determined to find ways to live on the social security system. Ecological refugees are of course first class, as we all love the planet.

Did I say: love the planet? Can you, this “we”, who have compiled these questions, honestly say that the planet can carry it if everybody in the world lives like you? Yes, everybody wants to live like you. Have a house that is safe with any amount of water, electricity, transport, social media gadgets, fridges with food, shops with abundance, good and safe schools, pleasant streets, kind neighbourhoods, interesting jobs, holidays elsewhere and never at the mercy of anybody. Can the earth sustain that? Of course not. Okay, so do you now live smaller, humbler, more sober, more sparse and share what you have? Of course not. So what is the real question here? Since the 1970’s it has become possible to produce enough food to feed the world. Why isn’t it happening? Most of the illnesses can be stopped or cured, why isn’t it happening? Why do most human beings live unbearable lives?

It all boils down to: when will the 1st world begin to share equally with the rest of the world?

All friction and war sprout from the need to access resources because resources are not fairly distributed. In order to claim one’s right to a resource, one uses gender, history, politics or religion. These issues are not real issues, but mask the desire for exclusive access. And lest we forget the double whammy: those countries who don’t want to take in refugees, often sell the weaponry to the warring. And this is where refugees come from - from skewed resources. And resources are skewed because of the plundering and manipulation by the powerful.

This is what I mean when saying: these questions have an aura of not-knowing: not knowing why some are never cold or hungry or terrified, have time to play and entertain and travel, keep their bodies fit, their teeth white and straight, their souls calculating the cost of caring.

The term refugee cannot have a special meaning for me, as a meaning was already bestowed on it by the dominant: refugee means people rejected and discarded by the more powerful. The moment one gets titled refugee, one is already associated with being pathetic, embarrassed and ashamed.  Embarrassed that those causing the turmoil, have no use for this pathetic you, are trampling on your right to live where you want to live and ashamed that you are now thrown at the mercy of international do-gooders and sympathetic western countries. Who will take you in? What do you have to do to be noticed by them in such a way that they allow you to take a food parcel, get on to their trucks, crawl across their borders, climb their walls, swim out onto their beaches?

The term refugee implicates a powerless one hoping for a powerful one; a helpless one begging for a generous one. But more than that: it implicates that the powerless one is powerless because in a sense he never had any real power and could therefore never secure his and his family’s position. So, in fact, it’s the useless ones that are turning up in their millions at one’s doorstep, the weak pathetic ones: those whom you can do nothing with, except take them in like stray cats or dogs, “absorb” them with the least discomfort to yourself. In the meantime you spell out a variety of rules and conditions for this acceptance so that you may use that inimitable word, the word that pushes right wing European political parties into power, and causes Brexit and Trump, the word “integrate”.   

Ignoring the multi-diversity of the world, some nations suddenly have the right to decide: you may or may not enter my country or my neighbourhood, or my social security system. Lodged in the outdated concepts of nationalism and the right to private ownership, barriers are erected and conditions laid down - as if land, air, waters, belong to us, as if we have the right to forbid someone universality.    

How much “home” do we need? Every single one of us need the whole world. We need the whole world in order to be fully human and humane. People must be able to move as they have moved across the continents since life on earth came into existence.

L’envoi

Is criticizing these questions just another form of blaming the west for all evils without having any plan? My plan is this: to declare across the world – a seven year period of Hospitality. All transport is free and people can move to anywhere in the world. They can move to another street, into a park, into the millionaire’s house and estate, into palaces, beaches, forests, continents. They can move to where they think they could lead a better life. Those who are quite satisfied with where and how they live, in other words the hosts, have to live with these new arrivals for seven years. If you are rich you would quickly find another house for this family, educate their children and pay for their food and medical care. After seven years this hospitality comes to an end and we all continue on a new slate. Some people may be evicted, but a lot of people would be better off and the world, hopefully, more equal.

It is this, or revolution. It is this, or hungry Africans, distraught Syrians, despairing Pakistanis will flood the gates of privilege and you will have to go to bed at night with a guard, armed to the teeth, at your front door, who, as part of his protection of your privilege, shoot women, children, disabled and frantic human beings.

No nationality should claim me, no border stop me, my humanity is my visa and I be welcome anywhere in the world.

Post Script: All of the above counts especially for myself, as a white person in South Africa.