I recently visited Robben Island, and found a former political prisoner, as many are, working as a tour guide in the same prison where he spent years, serving time for the freedom of this land.
I asked the respectable old gentleman if he truly believed we were one nation, or a rainbow nation, as he repeatedly and affectionately told the mostly white delegation.
He calmly replied: “I’m doing this to heal. We are not healed. So now I’m a tour guide. If you really want to know what I think is happening, and what I think should happen, let us talk in town.”
We got off the bus into the boat. He came to me and said: “We want our land, our mines and our economy. We want self-determination. Mandela was the captain of the ship and he said, ‘Peace. One man, one vote.’ We respected that, but Joe Slovo trapped us into the sunset clause. Now we don’t know what to do. The ministers come here, but can’t tell us why we must continue to live and work for whites.”
He continued: “I’m tired of the anger. I must survive, for my family.”
I went to Table Mountain in the same week, and almost all the people on the mountain were white. Blonde white, red-haired white, white white. Driving back, I was taken aback by how the City of Cape Town privileges and maintains whiteness. I stopped at the garage and asked the black brother attendant if he had been to Robben Island or up Table Mountain on the Cable Car. He quickly responded, “Hayi.”
“But you live in Cape Town,” I cried.
He responded, almost without emotion, in Xhosa: “No, my brother. I don’t live in Cape Town. I live in Langa. I work here.”
Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille launched on Human Rights Day, 21 March, an Inclusive City campaign following the racist violence by whites against blacks in Cape Town, and vowed the City would “try to face them head-on, to say that we will not tolerate racists, sexists or homophobes”.
Black people in the Western Cape live on the fringes of Cape Town and are treated and viewed as being almost on par with animals, in service of whiteness and comfort. The black condition is a white creation; we are turned into workers and servants for their comfort, and we come into the City in the morning, and go back into the violence of the townships in the evening. The normalised racist violence in Langa and the comfort of Camps Bay is part of the racist project created by white British supremacists which the DA government maintains.
The DA national spokesperson, Phumzile van Damme, defends the racism, saying: “Racism is not a Cape Town problem; it is a South African problem.” Even more revealing is the suggestion of the City’s Twitter campaign to “take the pledge against racism” because “racism slows down production”. The concentration camp-like conditions in Langa, Gugulethu and Nyanga are racist conditions maintained by the DA government in service of white comfort and production.
It seems that the City of Cape Town does not see the condition of the majority of black people in Western Cape as racist, let alone know what racism is. The reason that whites can stop at traffic lights, sjambok black bodies at will or beat up black women, claiming to have believed they were prostitutes, or even deny a black couple a table at a restaurant, is precisely because of their institutional socio-economic power at the expense of black people. Racism is the violent process of black people’s subjugation which requires institutional power to continue the subjugating, something blacks never had, even post ’94. The City’s ‘inclusive campaign’, of course, does not have a definition of what racism is, and therefore racism becomes everything, and everyone can be a victim of racism. Perpetrators become victims and victims become perpetrators.
Black bodies and white bodies do not have the same social power generally, especially in Cape Town. Recently I watched a YouTube video of a female black photographer who experimented by going into white spaces in Cape Town and taking photos of whites in restaurants, coffee shops and in their spacious gardens, having a good time. She was met with hostility, her camera was almost broken and she was threatened with police. White folks go to the townships all the time, taking pictures like they’re at a zoo, not asking for permission, because blacks do not occupy the same social position.
The DA welcomed the ‘inclusive city’ campaign, “aimed at creating public platforms for dialogue to confront what makes some residents feel excluded and some entitled”. The statement further claims that the racist physical violence against black people by whites in Cape Town “demonstrates the prejudices and attitudes that some in our society still hold.” Of course, this exposes the DA’s unwillingness to confront racism, trivialising it to “prejudice and attitudes.” The issue here is power: whites have undeserved privilege and power maintained by the DA government at the expense of blacks. Even if blacks have an attitude or prejudice against whites, justified or not, we don’t have the power or desire to subjugate whites. Prejudice and attitudes are not racism.
Census 2011 reveals that the average annual household income for Blacks was R60,613 – about a sixth of the average annual income among white households, which only make up 8.9% of the population. Although whites are a quantitative minority, they have appropriated all discourse and thought, culturally, socially, politically and economically. A white graduate, regardless of intellect, is more likely to get a job ahead of a black graduate, whites have generational wealth, they have more land and generally have a higher life expectancy, a lower mortality rate, a lower unemployment rate, are less affected by crime. Basically, Nelson Mandela was good to these folks.
The Western Cape has the most colonial statues and other memorial pieces; in fact, the DA is naming Cape Town’s busiest road after FW de Klerk, a racist who was education minister in 1976, when hundreds of unarmed and defenseless black school children were shot and killed in their back by white police.
I wonder whether the dialogue of the ‘inclusive city’ takes into account the fact that whites have power over blacks? Are the white racists that required blacks to carry passbooks also to be given a platform in the same dialogue to spread their racism?
Black people live in dilapidated infrastructures on the fringes of Cape Town, and many of them do not know about the campaign. Black elders share bedrooms with children, often as many as six, use exposed public bucket toilets, experience annual floods and shack fires, use poor public services, use the same unspeakable schools and clinics, and live with their waste in their shacks – but the same blacks will get a minimum of 15 years in jail for exposing their living conditions to white spaces, and the DA has no real solution for their conditions.
So I ask, why is white racism a black problem when it’s a white creation? Who is the racist? Is it the authorities that have naturalised slave-like black conditions in Western Cape farms, in Gugulethu, Langa and Khayelitsha that make Black people live on top of each other in waste, or those who fight the injustice? DM
"If a man seeks from the good life anything beyond itself, it is not the good life he is seeking" ~ Plotinus