Saturday, 21 August was a historic day in the African community in the Berlin district of Spandau. For the first time members of the community invited candidates for a general election to address them and listen to their views.
The event, organised by the Afro-Deutsche Group Spandau, provided a unique opportunity for African residents to interact with candidates running on the platform of the SPD for the elections taking place on 26 September.
Setting the ball rolling at the event, the spokesman of the group, Barrister Efosa Ogieriakhi, said Africans in Spandau were interested in participating fully in society which was why they gathered to meet the SPD candidates. He added that the event was to enable the politicians explain their manifestoes and listen to the African community.
Carola Brückner, the SPD candidate for the office of District Mayor of Spandau (Bezirksürgermeisterin), in her keynote speech talked about the issues which would receive her special attention if elected.
She decried a situation whereby residents in the districts are increasingly having to pay exorbitantly for accommodation. She opined that no one should pay more than 30 per cent of their earning for housing.
Ms Brückner said her administration would adopt interventionist measures to ensure that decent housing was not priced beyond the reach of citizens. And efforts would be made by the SPD if elected to lead the next federal government to enact a law that will ensure that rent prices don’t rise by more than 1% annually.
On the issue of transport, the mayor candidate said she would work for the expansion of the existing underground train and bus networks to make it easier for residents living in the outlying areas of the district to use the public transport system.
Brückner also talked about establishing more neighbourhood administrative offices (Kiezbüros) to bring communal administration closer to residents and facilitate more social contact among them.
The SPD politician also talked about looking at measures adopted to contain the Covid-19 pandemic and see how to address challenges facing residents in adapting to the measures.
In his own speech, Stefan Machulik, SPD candidate for the Berlin parliament (Abgeordnetenhaus) representing one of the constituencies in Spandau, said he would be advocating for improved policing.
He was committed to ensuring that there would be nowhere in the city where anybody would feel unsafe owing to their origin or other social identities.
“We will not tolerate intolerance in Spandau,” Machulik, who has been a district councillor (Bezirksstadtrat) in Spandau for 10 years, added. “People should not take out their frustration on fellow citizens because of their skin colour.”
In her contribution, Lola Rebecca Akindutire-Bassey, talked about issues that are of particular concern to African residents.
She mentioned affordable housing, saying that rising rents in Spandau were putting many low-income families under extreme pressure. Some have to pay up to 50 % of their household income for accommodation, she added.
Akindutire-Bassey, who is the director of a German language school in Spandau, also talked about home schooling which poses enormous challenges for many African parents because of their language deficiency and digital inadequacy. She appealed for support for such parents to enable them deal with these challenges.
In response to questions from the audience, Brückner said she would look into providing a place for Africans to meet or gather in Spandau if elected. Even though she did not make a firm commitment, the politician pledged to look at existing facilities available to find unused capacity that could be converted to an African civic centre.
Brückner appealed to Africans to take interest in the affairs of Spandau as “only together we can build a strong community”.
Machulik said the SPD was committed to building a diverse, united society where all members irrespective of their origin, skin colour, and other social characterisations live in peace and harmony, appealing to Africans to vote for his party at the next elections.
Barrister Ogieriakhi said things had improved in Germany and there were opportunities for every citizen irrespective of skin colour, religion or origin. He appealed to Africans in Spandau to take greater interest in the politics of the district and help shape its political administration. He also appealed to Africans in Spandau to vote for the SPD.
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In his comments, Pastor Phillip Imasuen promised that the Afro-Deutsche Group Spandau would mobilise Africans in Spandau to vote for the SPD and appealed to the candidates not to be discouraged by the sparsely filled hall as those present at the event were big influencers in the African community.
Turning to his fellow Africans, the clergyman said they should mobilise friends and families to vote on 26 September. “It’s our civic duty. Other communities are doing it, we should do it too.”
Despite the modest turnout of Africans, the point was made on Saturday that the community is interested in how Spandau is governed and that it is determined to be part of the governance process.
2021 is a super election year in Berlin as the election for the Federal Parliament (Bundestag) will take place at the same time as the election into the House of Representatives of Berlin (Abgeordnetenhaus) as well as the District Councils (Bezirksräte) on 26 September.