Monday, 23 January 2012

Is the Western Cape Racist?

3 February 2009 

In my last column I lamented the relegation of coloured people to the status of voting fodder whenever an election is looming. A related topic, carried by several articles in the Independent newspapers recently, is the attempt to taint the Western Cape as a racist province simply because the coloured people are in the majority here. We are constantly being told by the ubiquitous Solly Moeng and Guy Lundy that black professionals feel out of place in the Western Cape, that there are no black role models for them, and that Cape Town is not really a black city. These views are based allegedly on some pathetic research conducted by Accelerate Cape Town. No one ever assumes that coloured people might similarly feel out of place in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, or Limpopo.

My colleagues and I balked at these claims, convinced that this is part of a pre-election political ploy to taint the DA-led province, as being racist, the underlying assumption being that the ANC or COPE are the only parties that can transform the Western Cape into a truly non-racial region.

The truth is nobody has any evidence of how racist the Western Cape is unless they have conducted reliable polls in night clubs, in shopping areas, in schools, in churches, and in residential areas? Have they compared these polls with other regions? Is it an issue that KwaZulu Natal is predominantly Zulu and Indian? Does it matter that coloured people are invisible in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo? When we talk about diversity, does it mean that every province should look like every other one?

I am increasingly fed up with those who label the Western Cape as more racist than other provinces and who continue to stereotype coloured people as “those who did not contribute to the struggle” or “as those who did nothing when black kids protested against the imposition of Afrikaans” or as “those who refuse to know their place.” May I remind those self-serving race-minders that coloured people will refuse to know their place, will refuse to be invisible, and will refuse to disappear below the radar just to placate those who want their own dominance to supersede those who rightfully belong here.

Coloured people are not a homogenous group and are as diverse, if not more, than most people in this country. If we look at the cross-pollination going on in this country, it is clear that the future is coloured, whether we want it or not!

Sadly, coloured leaders have been clueless in asserting their rightful place in the greater scheme of things. And like the rest, they have succumbed to the trappings of power and money, entering political office mainly out of self-interest. It takes a person like Prof Dick Van der Ross to restore the history of the coloured people to its rightful place. In recent years this 87 year old educationist has written two very interesting books: one, Buy My Flowers!, the story of some of the flower sellers of Cape Town, that joyful institution in Adderley Street, forged out of the misery of the Group Areas Act. He writes about his grandparents from Constantia and the precincts of Strawberry Lane and how the Group Areas Act displaced the coloured community from Constantia that has today become the prestigious up-market white residential area in Cape Town.

 The other book, The Black Countess, is the remarkable story of Martha, the daughter of the freed slave, Rebecca, from the Cape. Wonderfully recreated, this story is about an independent, much married coloured woman, who raised her children with pride under difficult circumstances. When Harry Grey, that Oxford educated drop out met up with her, their lives took a different turn, especially when he landed the title of Earl of Stamford from his uncle, she instantly becoming the vastly wealthy Countess of Stamford. Cognisant of the value of freedom and the role of education in harnessing one’s freedom, Martha ploughed back into her community by investing in education, starting what later became known as the Battswood Training College. 

These stories underscore the fact that boring calls from academics for non-racialism and the embrace of our common African-ness are passé. Non-racialism eschews difference, unique historical, ethnic, social, and cultural experiences, and reduces everyone to nothingness. Coloured people are part of the rainbow nation; they are here for life; and no one can wish them away, least of all the likes of Solly Moeng and Guy Lundy.

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