Guest Commentary

Learn from South Africa: Money is better spent on people, not barriers

The forces of apartheid tried a fence similar to the idiotic fence proposed for the U.S.-Mexico border. That fence, along the border of Angola and Namibia (when South Africa controlled Namibia), didn't work, thanks to the African elephant.

The elephants simply trampled the fence down, summer after summer, as they crossed from Southern Angola into Namibia and Botswana in quest of fruit--often oranges, a delicacy to Loxodonta Africana.

When society--or elephants--wants something that is precious, be it rotting oranges or freedom and all its trappings (like opportunity, work, medical help, etc.), no amount of manmade fencing is going to stop a determined herd.

What is the solution? Take away the orange groves. Elephants were crossing an international border to get themselves a stomach full of oranges. We, as Americans, have to remove the reason for the influx of immigrants. Why are "they" coming here in the first place? What is the basic common denominator? Well, why did I come here from South Africa? It certainly was not for the money, the solid-gold sidewalks or whatever. No, it was for something more precious: freedom.

South Africa, under apartheid, came under tremendous pressure to change from the West, specifically South Africa's major trading partners: the United Kingdom, Germany, France and the United States. The redistribution of wealth was one issue--the gold, diamonds, plutonium, uranium, coal, manganese, iron ore, etc. were all in white hands. Habeas corpus was being denied to certain racial groups; people were often imprisoned without trial. (Does this all sound familiar?) Add to all that John Vorster Square, Pretoria, the torture chambers, deaths in detention and fraud at the polls.

Finally, after heroism and major pressure came the Reconciliation Commission and the avoidance of a bloody civil war. What replaced apartheid? A raging peace.

The United States should look very closely at the lessons learned in South Africa. Can't the United States apply to itself its own teaching and preaching to South Africa?

All those who "have not" deserve some basic human rights, some basic services, that we, as Americans, all treasure. "But who will pay for them?" you may ask. Well, who is going to be paying for a $2 billion fence that will not work?

If the elephants had found a grove or two of orange trees, or similar citrus, in Angola, north of the Namibian border, would they have ventured south, just for better, tastier fruit? I doubt it. Can't we learn that fences, walls, barriers, etc., do not and will not work? South Africa learned that the very hard way. Apartheid means "the act of keeping separate." Can't we learn that when barricades come down, instead of going up, perhaps peace could be a viable option?

Peace seemed nearly impossible in South Africa, but it happened. Why can't peace and understanding, instead of revenge and bloodshed, work here as well? Is a policy of "you erred; we forgive" not more mature than one of "an eye for an eye"? Do we, as Americans, see ourselves as so arrogant, so superior and so greedy that, because of our so-called wealth, all we try to do is teach other countries the "American Way"?

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