Press Statement: PASSOP disappointed over Zille’s allegation that South Africans are xenophobic

Press Statement – For Immediate Release

PASSOP concerned and disappointed by Premier Zille’s “refugee” tweets and allegations that South Africans are xenophobic.

When we were notified that Premier Helen Zille had tweeted a comment referring to children from the Eastern Cape as refugees, we expected her to simply apologise and withdraw from such remarks. We did not want to allow her reckless tweet to enter into the debate over who is “South African”, who is a refugee and who is an immigrant.  In fact, to highlight the misuse of the term, our director Braam Hanekom jokingly replied to her tweet by tweeting: “that’s a very generous definition of refugee, please get the DA to adopt it as policy”.

In a country where the vast majority of refugee status applications are rejected she decided to call even South Africans refugees. We were so confused by what appeared to be a mistake, but to our surprise, despite a public outcry and even international media attention, she continued to argue that they were refugees.

We chose not to enter into the debate, but following these latest remarks – (“Since South Africans are so profoundly xenophobic, they regard the use of the term “refugee” as an insult, says Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille.” Businessday written by Bekezela Phakathi (Link- http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/Content.aspx?id=168481) ) – we have decided to break our silence on the matter.

Premier Zille indeed has failed to accurately use the term refugee. She also made a serious misjudgment when she recently blamed concerned South Africans of being xenophobic for not wanting to be called refugees in their country of their citizenship.  It is incorrect to say that someone is against foreigners or xenophobic because they do not want elected leaders in a democratic country that many fought and died for to call them refugees. We do not accept the Premier calling South Africans xenophobic and we do not accept that people who historically were restricted their freedom of movement are called refugees when they move between provinces.

We are disappointed by the reckless remarks and are concerned that they may easily fuel both racial tensions as well as xenophobic tensions. The premier is certainly saying that people of a certain province who happened to be “black” (in our apartheid trained terminology) should not be allowed to leave and come to a province, which is predominantly “coloured”. This is a fair assumption considering that the premier opened this debate when she was tweeting about tensions in Grabouw, which were divided along race and she was certainly referring to impoverished “black” children who were in her province from the Eastern Cape.

In the interests of human rights, we call upon her to apologise and to reconsider her position.  Her statement is fueling tensions, and could undo much work that has been done to dissipate them since 2008’s xenophobic outbreak.  Not only do we, but certainly the vast majority of South Africans want to build a country that does not see race and does not judge people based on their family name or country of nationality.

For Comment please call: Anthony Muteti – 0843510388   or David von Burgsdorff-0746602583

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