In a packed bar last weekend, I ran into a familiar face, and my first instinct was to be aggressive. At first I couldn’t place the face, until he explained to me that he was a bouncer at one of Cape Town’s most popular joints. When I realised this, I remembered that it was the same guy who had refused me entry into that very bar months ago. At the time, he had explained to me that it was a private function inside and only people on the guest list could enter. Of course, I knew that this was a lie because my friends had entered the venue minutes before, while I was trying to get parking.
That evening, after he had “bounced” me, I went home very bitter and vowed that I would never go back there. And indeed I haven’t.
So when we crossed paths, and he sought to shake my hand, I walked away. Moments later, I realised I was being unfair, and that I couldn’t treat him like this because, quite frankly, he was doing his job.
As he explained to me, bouncers take orders from management. When you are standing at the door, management can come to you at any time and say, “There are too many black people in the club, make sure no more enter”, or “There are too many males, make sure only females enter”. In Cape Town, it’s usually the former.
One owner of a popular spot put it to me like this, “Once your place gets too black, the whites stop coming. As a business person in Cape Town, this is a situation you can’t afford. Maybe in Joburg you can because blacks bling.”.
Anyhow, this guy proceeded to apologise to me, almost pleading for my understanding. And as I thought about it, I wondered if I could really fault him for doing his job? Is he supposed to take a stand in a battle that has been raging for decades? Is it fair to ask him to disobey his employers or quit his job? My own friends had stayed inside instead of leaving with me in solidarity, rejecting this place for what it was. In the end, I shook his hand, expressed my understanding and walked away.
In Cape Town, in present day South Africa, my black, middle-class friends, routinely change their names and sometimes accents, to secure bookings at restaurants over the telephone. When responding to advertisements about apartments for rent, they send their white friends to go view for them and trick the owner until it is time to sign the lease – at which stage the owner will no longer be able to say the flat is not on the market just because the potential tenant is black.
This is the situation in what is now known as South Africa’s last colony. The year is 2010. It is incredible, but real.
And so, more and more young black people abandon Cape Town for Jozi, where the colour of your skin is irrelevant, as long as your wallet bulges with notes and credit cards.
So all of us, regardless of our skin colour, find ourselves in a rather precarious position – speak out or be silent.
But whose fight is it? Will black young people abandon those places where they are rejected because of the colour of their skin? Will white young people boycott those places which refuse their peers access merely because of the colour of their skin? Will black bouncers refuse to work in such bars or restaurants and thus go without work? Or will all the blacks move to Jozi where they are accepted, and whites continue to pretend that they don’t see colour.
I’m not suggesting that any single person or race is responsible. But clearly there is a problem. The question is; whose problem is it to solve? But as a friend of mine put it to me, “The choice is yours. Move to Jozi and risk a hijacking, or stay in Cape Town and know you are going nowhere”. It’s a tough call.
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