Tag Archives: Cape Town

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Denying Racism in Cape Town Is About Lack of Empathy

by Guest Contributor Luso Mnthali, originally published at AfriPop

I was on radio the other day, trying to explain to Shado Twala, well-known radio and television personality here in South Africa, how racism personally affects me. I had this great chance to finally tell a wider audience what it feels like to live in a city that denies you so much because you’re black. But I focused too much on how I’d been getting hostile looks from strangers, and being shoved and bumped into a couple of times while walking in my predominantly white neighbourhood.

I felt like I blew it.

Gone was the experience I had on my first date with the man who would later become my boyfriend. It was here in Cape Town, years ago, when another white man lunged at me and spat out some ugly racist words at me. I won’t say publicly what they are, not now anyway. Because he wasn’t aware of it at the time, I only told my man this had happened years later. It’s not something I want to remember, or talk about, but it’s been on my mind a lot lately. Possibly because there have been so many incidents of racism in the Cape in recent months. And it’s happened not only when the tourists flood in during the month we all lovingly call Dezemba. Even though, during my conversation with uMam’Shado, we were slightly glib about how the tourists from other provinces annually bring with them a spate of complaints about the ‘Mother City’ as it is known to some. My black South African friends have asked: “Mother to whom, this city? Who does it mother and who is the mother?”

So I felt that, during that conversation, gone were the experiences of friends trying to rent apartments, but being disappointed because of race-based selection or denial. Of friends leaving their jobs and packing up to go back to Joburg after a year or two. Gone were the stories of how even academia works to keep black people out. Gone were the myriad instances of microagression and hostility in a place that renders you both visible and invisible. You’re visible when you’ve clearly transgressed – how dare you walk around with a white man who clearly adores you? What are you doing with him? Or, as some women from a white-owned mainly white-staffed media house asked my friend about me – “How did she get a white guy?” Continue reading

Quoted: Verashni Pillay On Lingering Racism In Cape Town, South Africa

Here’s what should have happened in the 17 years since then: Cape Town, the country’s oldest city with its reputation for being cosmopolitan, ought to have led the way in racial unity. It didn’t happen. Far away from verkrampte Pretoria and even more conservative Bloemfontein, Cape Town failed us. Her people withdrew into their racial enclaves and passed each other warily on the street.

I spent two and a half years in Cape Town before I fled for Johannesburg, like so many other black professionals (ahem). It wasn’t just the stories you’d hear about people of colour being turned away from nightclubs, or how the only other black people in your work place were generally the cleaners. It wasn’t even the near complete absence of racial integration.

What drove me slowly mad was how racism was an elephant in the room that you could not talk about. How white Capetonians would cringe and turn away when the topic came up, or look at you in blank confusion and ask why you were so obsessed with race. It was how, yes, there is racism everywhere in South Africa but in Cape Town it is not possible to even discuss it. And how Cape Town, with its pristine beaches, its lofty Parliament buildings and history of activism, was somehow supposed to be better than that.

And in our haste to one-up each other in the Being Right game, South Africans have singularly failed to stop and listen to each other. It’s the black professionals like myself who fled the city, generally for Johannesburg, and didn’t consider what the glib statement “Cape Town is racist” really meant, and how a generalisation like that was itself prejudiced.
- From “The black professional is not dead,” in The Mail & Guardian.