Conflict between Black and Coloured South Africans – Cape Town

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A beautiful shot of Cape Town. Picture by Jeidi Thompson

Racism is often referred to as a timeless struggle that has been passed down from generation to generation, decade after decade. A problem as old as time, is racial discrimination and the inequalities that go hand-in-hand. Throughout the history of South Africa both pre- and post-Apartheid, racism has reared its ugly little head whether it is institutionalised, stereotypical or internalised.

Cape Town, on the surface is arguably one of the world’s most beautiful cities and one of Africa’s biggest tourist attractions. However brewing under the surface is an unpleasant conflict amongst two of the larger ethnic groups within the city.

Previously disadvantaged during the Apartheid era people of colour (both black and coloured) had limitations and laws put in place against and in some cases, inflicted upon them. The history of Apartheid and the downfall thereof is well documented but the intricacies involved as well the aftermath remain somewhat of a grey area.

Prior to this piece of writing, I had conducted brief interviews with a few people who have lived in Cape Town all their lives about the aforementioned conflict pertaining to black and coloured citizens. We all hear stories through the grapevine of this incident or that but in order to achieve definitive answers and opinions one has to do some digging. The only way to gain a better understanding of the issue at hand was to obtain opinions from both sides; from a black perspective and from a coloured perspective.

When first asked about the conflict, a 20-year old coloured female (who wished to remain anonymous) responded with, “Why are you asking me that?” followed by “Yeah, I guess there is”. This response leads me to believe that the talking points are there, lying dormant until the issue needs to be addressed. During the same interview, the young woman referred to stereotypical racism as being a part of her everyday life in a post-Apartheid era. She said, “We all know about the general stereotypes that exist across all races whether it’s black, coloured, white or purple! I was made aware of these stereotypes growing up but it was for me to decide if I wanted to look at someone based on their colour or the actual person”. Based on that statement alone, it is easy to say that the stereotypes and the effects thereof vary from person to person but that presumption cannot be made based on one person’s opinion.

Speaking to 22-year old black male (who also wished to remain anonymous), I had learned that he had a similar view to that of the young woman. Baring in mind that they live in the same neighbourhood in Athlone, they had similar views on racism and stereotypes. He said, “It’s a choice. You can choose to be racist or not but there are some cases where you are born into it and just can’t help yourself”. As contradictory as that last statement sounds, it makes sense with regard to how you are brought up and what your parents lead you to believe.

Parents and elders shape the beliefs and thinking of their children and families which is why I found that when speaking to older folk about the conflict they seemed more stern in their approach to other races. Almost as if they were speaking from a place of anger and frustration with a pre-1994 way of thinking about race.

This anger and frustration was somewhat justified when contextualised in an Apartheid era type of mentality for a person of colour. Black people had no rights and were the ‘target’ and on the receiving end of Apartheid laws and policies, however coloured people were able to find loopholes and in some cases fall through the cracks of the oppressive system. Coloured people were able to claim their “whiteness” as a result of having  a fair colour of skin or straight hair (to pass a pencil test) and as a result live a better life. Black people were not as fortunate but were able to ‘pass’ as coloured due to having a lighter skin tone. Naturally those “who were left behind”, so to say, were enraged and this is ultimately where more of the older interviewees believed that conflict stemmed from. Another interesting point that was made by one of the interviewees was that “the blacks are getting more opportunities than the coloureds”. Essentially what is happening is that there is no equality in terms of the opportunities being made available as black people are getting first preference.

In a post-1994 ‘Rainbow Nation’ South Africa we have seen our decision makers that be, try to correct the injustices of Apartheid and use this particular conflict to their political advantage. These occurrences have come in the form of government implementing systems that aim to ‘aid’ and benefit black people in previously disadvantaged areas first before any other ethnic groups within the country. Essentially, what this means is that black people are looking to better themselves first in order to make up for the injustices of Apartheid but ultimately it is the coloured people who get left in the middle as they were during Apartheid.  Policy makers and government officials use the conflicts and evident racial issues for their own political gain instead of trying to resolve the issues at hand as well as issues that should have been addressed well before embarking into our second decade of being a democratic country.

In closing, based on the interviews and conversations that were conducted held respectively there is the notion that there is a conflict that is lying dormant just waiting to be sparked off by a racist rant or something of the sort.

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