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Refugees, the American dream and a war for Cape freedom

By Shafinaaz Hassim

It seems as though, just like tragic Alice in Wander-land, we’ve all fallen down some obscure rabbit hole in South Africa. It’s not impossible, given our national heritage of mining shafts, and it must have happened at some point during the last few weeks while toyi-toying in Twitterville or outside the ConCourt and Goodman Gallery. Not only have we given Freud’s delighted corpse much to be thrilled about as a national case study, thrown mud at art and dignity (courtesy of the Spear episode), but we’ve now gone and nominated an international warlord for high honour. I’m referring to the DA’s call to award the Obamas the freedom of the city of Cape Town.

If Cape Town were to chip off the coast of Southern Africa and float off into the setting sun as it were, I’d be less likely to care. Seeing as it will remain a beautiful appendage to this continent and country, I’d rather covet my occasional refugee status and not hold my peace.

Browsing an article by local newsman Azhar Vadi, I stumbled on a quoted piece by Peter L. Bergen writing in the New York Times on April 28 2012, where he noted in his opening lines that, “The president who won the Nobel Peace Prize less than nine months after his inauguration has turned out to be one of the most militarily aggressive American leaders in decades.” Ironically he notes, “The president used the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech as an occasion to articulate his philosophy of war. He made it very clear that his opposition to the Iraq war didn’t mean that he embraced pacifism — not at all.”

What do South Africans have to say about it?

A letter to the presidency via the Media Review Network/Muslim Judicial Council outlines the Obama mantra as one of ‘permanent war’ accompanied by zero accountability. US foreign policy leaves much to be desired, and the Obama administration both inherited and duly contributed to a legacy of war and pillage.

Nehawu adamantly calls for the freedom of Cape Town “to be given to the poor, majority black disenfranchised people of South Africa, instead of awarding it to the weak-willed Barack Obama”. Their letter condemns the DA’s move as elitist and narrow in its intent. Nehawu also attacks the DA-led municipality as “hypocritical and opportunistic”, saying that “they want to award the freedom of the city to a ‘spineless’ celebrity politician and his wife while at the same time their leader Helen Zille is lamenting about poor South Africans flooding the city of Cape Town. Grandiose and superficial gestures to the leaders of the Western world cannot mask the failure of the Cape Town municipality to deliver services to its most vulnerable citizens.”

It begs asking what it is that the DA has in its agenda when it alienates the common(er) South African on the other side of the picket ‘fence’ – I daren’t opt for a colour – and seeks to bestow a somewhat tokenistic honour on the US president and first lady. Cosatu states that this reduces an important occasion for the city into a mere political gimmick on the part of the DA for media limelight and it condemns the waste of public funds to this end. Further, Cosatu takes seriously that it serves as a deflection from service delivery protests and engenders division within a city already divided by race and inequality.

If the occasion of honour suggested by the award of freedom of the Cape is meant to build harmony and cohesion in the city, the data certainly doesn’t suggest consensus. But it remains to be seen: will South Africans speak out in condemning the request?

Are claims that corporate South Africa holds the cards in this game to be given much weight? Are further claims worthy of note, that the tug of war between this request by the DA and the feverish condemnation of civil society are really a ploy to put the presidency in the proverbial corner with this decision? Will this be the case? Will South Africans unilaterally condemn the call as unsubstantiated? Most of all, when the recommendation is brought to council, what will President Zuma’s position be?

Shafinaaz Hassim is a South African author and poet. Her works include “Daughters are Diamonds: Honour, Shame & Seclusion – A South African Perspective” (2007), “Memoirs For Kimya” (2009) and “Belly of Fire” (2011). Her research focuses on biographical narrative in the interplay between personal and political spaces and, to this end, she writes both fiction and non-fiction. She has lectured and presented seminars at UKZN in Durban, and Humboldt University in Berlin. She currently lectures in sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

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    • http://live Sterling Ferguson

      @Ayesha, I have been all over South America, Caribbean and north America can you say the same? There are people in the ANC that went to Cuba and came back talking how great things were there and Castro the next week made a speech to say Cuba was a failure.So, why are many of you trying to defend a fail state? Also, you should be calling on the Cuban government to release Dr. Darvis Ferrer that Castro jailed for protesting racism in Cuba. You should go into and read about the reign of terror against the black brothers in Cuba. Why the ANC leaders have never spoken out against racism in Cuba?

    • Tofolux

      @Sterling, you are misleading Ayesha with untruths and speculations. I think the least you can do when replying is honesty. I have noted that most of your arguments are based on speculation and inasmuch as some of us would want to leave you in that world, I think that when you start attributing quotes to certain persons or parties, it cannot go unchallenged. Hence please refrain from misquoting and misleading pipo with untruths.

    • Tofolux

      @Dave, the premise of my argument re Bush and Obama is the fact that they are utlimately accountable to the capital who put them there. Firstly, their foreign policy is the same, no change. One has seen the occupation of sovereign and foreign countries continue. The Arab Spring has been achieved by economic hit-men and not by social media. You have seen the hauling before court of most of these Arab leaders before a so-called international court continue and here I remind you of what happened to Saddam’s henchmen and Russian dissidents. You are now seeing the attempt at occupation of Syria and Iran, with USA aiding and abetting the rebels with arms and money. Remember the huge scam they pulled on us re Kuwait, same scenarios, same strategy,same money. Their policy on Africa, their non-assistance iro AU and the issues raised by AU,the undermining of African countries by America, this under Bush and Obama. Also, the attacks on Palestine by Israel was outrageous to say the least and yet Israel has been allowed to continue unabated. Also the personal attacks on Chavez and other democratic elected leaders in South America, the Guantanamo Bay prisoners, the untransformed IMF and World Bank etc etc. I think Obama let a lot of people down. He represented an alternative to Bush and yet he never achieved anything of note. You see Dave, he squandered an opportunity to be a great leader. It could have been so different. Obama tightened the screws unnecessarily and continud da nightmare

    • Ayesha

      @Tofolux: thanks for the defense, but as already noted to Mark, there are some closed minds that will stubbornly remain shut, no matter how many countries they’ve visited (my tongue is firmly in my cheek)! Just for those who are TRULY interested, I;m accounted pretty well-travelled on various continents, including over half the countries on this one, and am willing to engage in rational and reasonable conversation about any of those regions, as that really is the best way to continue learning. *Just saying* 😀

    • DebbySA

      I agree with the comments raised here about Obama not having earned the right to this award, and as South Africans we have every right to protest this call by the DA. Obama’s insiduous influence is more dangerous in that he carries the ‘right colour’ and has made the US look more amenable to the Third World. What he turns out to be, is a Trojan horse instead! Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Palestine etc are incremental evidence.

      The war crimes on his head should make him take the stand at the ICC. He should be tried and not applauded or awarded some high honour!

      What’s in it for SA anyway? Is he solving the housing, education or service delivery crisis in the Western, Eastern Cape/SA?

    • Dave Harris

      Again, I understand your disappointment with Obama and with much of what you say regarding the increasing corruption of US politics by corporate money. However, I would caution against expecting foreign policy to change overnight. Under Obama the change in direction of foreign policy has already begun, although not at the pace we need. Anyway, do you remember Obama asking certain African leaders to put away their begging bowls? International aid has been the genesis of corruption in Africa ever since colonialism – this is the single most important change that can bring long-lasting peace to Africa.

      Anyway, even if you are correct in in your assessment of Obama, would you prefer Romney over Obama??? Can you indulge me for a minute and imagine what would happen if Romney became their president. Even though international opinion has little influence, if any, on US domestic elections, do you think dissing Obama at this crucial juncture is wise or should you should be letting Americans know how you feel about Romney instead?