There’s something rotten in Cape Town
There’s a water crisis, the City of Cape Town’s management, by its own admission, is in disarray, mired in “instability”, evictions of poor, black families already living in tenuous circumstances continue despite evidence showing occupation and violent protests and aftershock flare-ups have continued in the Mitchell’s Plain Siqalo ward.
And today, the DA axed Patricia de Lille. It’s been bubbling under for a while, but I think it’s fair to say we all saw it coming.
You might even say we could smell the rot long before we saw it.
The evictions of poor black families, the tensions resulting in violence between coloured and black communities, the axing of the City’s Mayor when we, despite the reports by the DA itself, remain unclear on what her misconduct, if any, actually was, have a common thread.
Much has been written about how Cape Town is rife with racism – the interpersonal and systemic kind. Of course, this isn’t surprising – we all endure apartheid’s legacies. But Cape Town, unlike, say, Johannesburg, has an ‘old-world’, colonial-redux kind of systematic separation and segregation. And our demographics lend itself to this.
The political infighting in the party who manages the City of Cape Town mirrors what is going on in its streets. And we shouldn’t be surprised. Indeed, I bet none of us are. Indeed, the tensions in the streets reflect how post-Apartheid South Africans have been sold short. Everywhere in South Africa, and instructively so in the Cape.
This is not going to go how you think, I’m not going to plea for unity against white supremacy because tensions between Black and Coloured are what our masters wanted, and they must be smiling in their graves. Nor yet another commentary, despite how true, that the optics of the de Lille saga are not good for a party that claims to be inclusive and anti-racist yet represents anti-poor, anti-black (because the two are intricately linked) policy.
While these things are true, any analysis that ends there is superficial. Apartheid’s masters sowed division through its caste system, yes. And it worked, yes. But to confront that with a Pollyanna-ish call to ‘unite’ against white supremacy – to not let ‘them’ win – avoids a deeper issue.
It avoids the issue of identity and culture and history in a panoply of diversity and sub-cultures that is South Africa. It avoids that while much has been said about justice, truth, memory and reconciliation between white and black (inclusive of People of Colour), there also needs to be an urgent, ongoing and intentional project of understanding between non-Black People of Colour and Black people. Coloured South Africans and Indian South Africans and anyone else who identifies as a person of colour need to examine what part we play in continuing systemic oppression. Whether it be attitudinal in using slurs against a ‘lower’ class or upholding the status quo through inaction. This holds especially for socioeconomically privileged NBPOC South Africans, but not exclusively.
And, this holds for all of us, Indian and Coloured who fought in the Struggle, who marched in the streets, who spent time in detention, who were teargassed and shot with rubber bullets, who were beaten and chased. While we all fought Apartheid and that is to be commended, what we didn’t do is fight our internal prejudices. We still refuse to acknowledge that it is a problem; the internal hate bred into our hearts and minds of the Other. The hate that none of us could avoid no more than a fish can acknowledge it is in water.
In the work I do I have often encountered how a Struggle activist will use those credentials to deny any prejudicial behaviour on their part, or use it to shut down conversations because “I fought for your freedom, I am not racist”. Or, “I’m not racist, am I? I can’t be, I fought Apartheid!” when confronted with something that has forced them to introspect.
No, it’s not racism. In the grand scheme of things Black people and People of Colour don’t have a critical mass to use power and privilege to exert the structural racism that is the sin qua non of racism. But in microcosms like schools, workplaces, or communities, where there is a dominant group of Coloured or Indian, that prejudice can become weaponised. And in our resource unequal, high wealth inequality and inadequate access to services landscape so very bound up with the racial caste system that was Apartheid, this will only become more and more a feature of our landscape. Where those whose parents stood side by side in the Struggle now fight – and have to – to live lives of dignity.
When we can stand in our identity, our ongoing reclaiming of our histories, our pride in our cultures and traditions all while confronting our unexamined prejudices that makes us think its ok to deny Others basic humanity, then we can truly say we stand united against white supremacy.
Ayesha Fakie is the Head of Sustained Dialogues at the Institute for Justice & Reconciliation