Sydney Majoko
5 minute read
22 Apr 2022
11:31 am

Dear Helen Zille, you know nothing about poverty, so check yourself

Sydney Majoko

You can't rescue someone from a pit latrine and expect them to then be grateful for the opportunity to live in a pigsty, writes Sydney Majoko.

DA federal council chair Helen Zille during the council meeting to elect a new speaker and mayor at the Brixton community centre on 22 November 2021. Picture: Neil McCartney

Dear Helen Zille,

You have no idea what it’s like to be poor in any South African township.

It must be nice to be you. To be as privileged as you are and still know what a poor resident of Langa feels like compared to a poor resident of Tembisa in the East Rand or Galeshewe in the Northern Cape.

That’s what you said the other day: “To be poor in Langa in Cape Town is a hundred, probably a thousand times better than to be poor in many of the townships in the rest of the country.”

Sigh! It is scary to think that a very senior leader in the Official Opposition can actually mouth those words.

First things first, it is actually poor form to compare levels of poverty. No poverty can ever be better than the other. Poor people aren’t poor by choice. It’s not as if a person in KwaMashu(KZN) can wake up tomorrow and decide “I’d rather be poor in Khayelitsha(CPT), I’m moving there.”

But this is not the main gist of my letter to you. The main gist of my letter to you is that the Democratic Alliance has given you so many free passes to spew divisive bile over the years, without anyone inside the party calling you to order. My conclusion on why this happens is that they agree with your toxic views or they are too scared to disagree with you for the fear that they might meet the same fate that befell Mmusi, Trollip or Herman.

No one wants to be poor, whether in Langa or Mamelodi. Poverty is degrading. Township life is not anything anyone aspires for. Poverty anywhere in the world strips you of dignity.

It is worse in South Africa because most people are poor not because of the choices they made in life, but simply because they were born black.

Also Read: Effects of poverty on kids worrying

I will not try to educate you on what life is like in a township environment, except to say that you know that every township in this country was created to be a labour camp for its closest town or suburb.

Overcrowding and terrible infrastructure are synonymous with any township you can think of.

People in the townships don’t want a better life than people in other townships.

They want the same life that people in the suburbs have: to report broken streetlamps and potholes, not wake up to a gang massacre or Eskom load reduction because a new squatter camp has sprung up down the road from them.

Your colonialism tweets a couple of years ago generated animated responses not because they were provocative, it was simply because they were condescending.

Bringing tap water to a continent doesn’t make up for centuries of oppression.

Just like your poverty quotes, they compared levels of depravity and made one better than the other. Simply put, you cannot rescue someone from drowning in a pit latrine and put them into a pigsty and expect them to be grateful because, well, the pigsty is better than a pit latrine.

Depravity is depravity.

Your comments are not only condescending, they are racist.

Racism isn’t only defined by statutes as it was during the rule of the Nats.

It has become more subtle now, and someone who isn’t a victim of it wouldn’t understand it.

Ever had a white neighbour’s kid point a toy rifle at you and pull the toy trigger as you drove past? Or a neighbourhood suburban WhatsApp group admin exhort you to “not react so violently to posts in Afrikaans in this group because “it’s not such a big deal”?

I guess not, but let me tell you that if I posted in the same group in Tsonga or Zulu the reactions would be a “100, if not a thousand times worse.” What does all of this have to do with you?

The answer is “everything!”

Your condescending tweets create an atmosphere for many white South Africans who have never experienced even two minutes of township life to believe that “it is not so bad.”

It isn’t so bad because “I’ve worked with black people all my life, and they never complained about how bad life is in the townships.”

Helen, your public views of how black people are supposed to feel about their conditions, of how they are supposed to react to colonialism that happened to them, of how being poor in one township compared to another are racist and condescending. You cannot tell what it feels like to be poor in any township.

Also Read: Helen Zille: More than just a jump to the right

You know how you like reminding people that you made exposed the truth about Biko’s death? Well, let me remind you that it was that same Biko who taught us that you cannot kick a person and tell them how to react to the kick, I paraphrase.

Telling black people what colonialism brought them or how being poor in Langa is better amounts to the same thing. You do not have the moral authority to do that.

You are big on numbers. You go to town on how many black people vote for the DA in any election, but do you have a measure of how many black people who understand the undertones of your tweets and toxic views would have voted for the DA were it not for your alienating views?

Also Read: Wedding bells for Cyril, John?

You might feel 20% is enough for the DA to achieve its goals without the ‘radicals’ who question why black leaders leave your party, but you cannot measure the amount of damage that your views are causing for Project South Africa beyond our generation.

You have no idea of the amount of resentment your views are causing across the races. Check yourself.