He got an unsatisfactory mark for his talk in school halfway the sixties. His own fault probably, at least he could have known. Wrong subject and a newly introduced system of grading – the listeners, the class, could determine the mark – made a poor starting-point for a story told by a somewhat unworldly boy of fifteen that was never part of the gang in the first place. Without any knowledge or insight, only based on a vague notion that something had to be done, the images of Biafra from newspapers and TV journals still on his mind, he had chosen development aid as a subject. Not a very sexy theme. Talking for half an hour with words like ‘give as much as you can afford’, compassion and the love of one’s neighbour and fumbling through permillages that he wanted to change into percentages. The class heard ‘giving all you have’, didn’t see any need at all and understood that the boy was even more crazy than they’d thought. Incensed he stumbled through the last ten minutes in which the class could ask questions and ended his talk with ‘If we are not going to bring it, one day they will come and get it’. It sounded like a threat. The result was a lot of screaming and a fat unsatisfactory mark.
The cynical diminishing of the surveillance in the Mediteranean – possibly some more will drown in the beginning but after a while it will get less – achieved the opposite. Thousands of people drowned but it needed 900 victims in one boat to come to a new plan. We’re going to do it differently.
In the Hague endless discussions about giving people, of whom we all think they cannot stay indefinitely, the basics like food and shelter yes or no as long as they are in the country. It’s not so much about the costs I read, that seems to be not that much, it’s about the principle, and of course about the voters opinion in the next elections. That a huge number of people cannot go back in the first place is a detail that’s ignored for now, for a long time already it’s not about people anymore.
That boy in the sixties, it was I, knows a little bit more today. ‘They will come and get it’ doesn’t sound like a threat any longer, it became a logical and understandable fact of life. And I can’t blame them. Saying they should get shelter in their own regions may be a point but then you’ll have to do something. Only when those shelters are a reality, not a half worn tent with a bucket in the corner for twenty people but adequate, safe shelters; only then we can talk again. Why does the UN find it difficult to find even those thirty million dollars that are desperately needed for Yarmuk, that camp in Syria?
That talk, I wouldn’t do it again nowadays. Also today the class would give me a very unsatisfactory mark.
In the meantime in Alexandra, Alex we used to say fondly, the army went in to stop killings with a xenophobic background. Last night there were another two victims. The king of the Zulu’s – of the Zulu’s for Christ sake!!! – gave words to feelings that apparently are alive in many. ‘Those leaches have to go!’ he told his people. He was talking about foreigners in South Africa, Wilders (the Dutch politician) in an African version. Powers that are easy let loose and hard to get back where they belong.
The, in my opinion, real causes of all the hatred and distrust, politicians that line their pockets without any shame have lost contact a long time ago with the people for whom they should be there and think their new car is more important that running water for Emmanuels mother. That and the deadlock because of inadequate government; it’s never mentioned. Votes they’ll get anyway, they brought freedom to the country did they not?And, almost unnoticed, a spirit of shameless egoism and neo-liberalism (is there a difference between the two?) leads people into a new form of slavery.
Tonight that soft sweet tenor sounds loud and clear, just like then with a touch of despair. ‘We have to do it together, all of us, together.