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CNN SUNDAY MORNING

South Carolina Town Split Over Bantu Refugees

Aired July 27, 2003 - 10:53   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN ANCHOR: The American dream will soon be put to a serious test in a small South Carolina town.
The impending arrival of 60 Bantu refugees has pit neighbor against neighbor and it could challenge the proposition that everyone in America has a fair shot at success.

CNN's Sean Callebs reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cayce, South Carolina, likes its solitude. A small town in the shadow of the state's capital. But now it's immersed in an international controversy, bracing for the arrival of 60 members of the African Bantu tribe, refugees from war in Somalia.

MAYOR AVERY WILKERSON, CAYCE, SOUTH CAROLINA: Here's some of our concerns. Number one is, we don't think we can provide for 60.

CALLEBS: It was 120. But the number was cut in half, following complaints from citizens.

The Bantu are moving after ten years in a refugee camp in Kenya, being placed in Cayce by a Lutheran organization, in conjunction with the State Department.

(on camera) Some members of the community are concerned the Bantu will be a strain on social services and adversely impact the public school system.

And they say it is unrealistic to believe that members of a community long oppressed, who can't even read or write their native language, can come in, learn English, and be a productive member of the community in a matter of months.

(voice-over) And the mayor says the Lutheran Family Services has said the Bantu are coming, like it or not.

WILKERSON: I think people's hair get up on their neck, their backbone gets stiff, and it's, like, you're not going to do this to us because we've in no input.

CALLEBS: Lutheran Family Services is helping place 12,000 Bantu refugees in 50 towns and cities across the U.S. Cayce was chosen because of low crime, affordable housing and public transportation. REV. RICHARD ROBINSON, LUTHERAN FAMILY SERVICES: The community backlash here has taken us by surprise.

CALLEBS: The Reverend Robinson says some concerns are realistic, such is the effect on schools. But, he says, the Lutherans will work with the Bantus six months, finding jobs and providing education.

And, Robinson says, some concerns, such as terrorism or the spread of AIDS, are irrational.

ROBINSON: A lot of the fear is just good old-fashioned phone xenophobia, a fear of people who are different.

CALLEBS: One item not openly discussed, race. Cayce is across the river from the capital, where the confederate flag still flies over a confederate memorial.

DICK HARTPOOLIAN: To say race has nothing to do with it is absolutely absurd.

CALLEBS: Dick Hartpoolian is a former Columbia City councilman and county prosecutor. Sixty Bantu will also be relocating to the capital city. So far, no controversy there.

A 30-year resident of the area, he believes Cayce will cope fine in the long run.

HARTPOOLIAN: You know, these are folks that like a good, rowdy NASCAR race. Certainly, they can deal with the Bantu coming.

CALLEBS: Over the next several weeks, the Bantu will start making their way to the town of 12,000. They will have to get used to lots of traffic, electricity, running water, and unless there is a change, something else not restricted to American culture, the cold shoulder.

Sean Callebs, CNN, Cayce, South Carolina.

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