Black Capetonians must make the city their own

2011-05-21 11:05

Nothing could or should have prepared me more for a “racist” Cape Town than walking into an all-but-white Cape Times newsroom in 1991 as a 21-year-old journalist.

It didn’t help that I was just a cub ­reporter fresh from college and low on self-esteem.

This event and a number of observations and events to ­follow firmed up my prejudice of having walked into a bastion of whiteness.

Add to this that this was the time of the last kicks of apartheid, with uhuru just around the corner.

Take for instance the obnoxious and very racist news editor who believed the police more than his own ­reporters.

This man would deny me the glory of a front page lead on my own – I had to share a byline with a white colleague.

His deputy preferred for me not to leave the townships because the paper needed a “black reporter” there.

This is the same liberal man who also reminded me that I should not have taken up journalism as a career. I was only too happy to rub his nose in my success years later.

But I digress.In spite of all this, it was also white colleagues in that newsroom who made my stay memorable and also contributed to my career growth.

Peter Dennehy literally hand-held me through my first published stories. Sybrand Mostert taught me to pay attention to detail.

Didi Moyle taught me to write tightly.

Zulu-speaking Chris Bateman, a typical Woodstock-type hippie with long hair and suits paired with takkies, took me in his skodonk to his house in Muizenberg where we would drink ourselves into a stupor.

Chris was the quintessential kaffir-boetie.

In his column titled The Cape of backdoor racism (City Press, May 8) my esteemed friend, Victor Dlamini, repeats the often spoken theory held by many black South Africans that Cape Town is a racist city where blacks are not welcome.

This is Dlamini’s experience – and clearly that of many others – and I don’t seek to denigrate it.

But I want to repeat the same argument I advanced against a similar rant by another friend and journalist, Sandile Dikeni, just under a decade ago.

In my view, Cape Town whites are no different from their compatriots in Villiers, Umhlanga Rocks, Lindhaven, Uitenhage or any other town or city in South Africa.

Like many white South Africans, they are both fascinated by and apprehensive about black South Africans.

The difference between Cape Town and say Johannesburg and, to an extent, a city like Durban, is that in the latter two cities blacks have fast-tracked the re-education of whites and have demystified the fascination and apprehension.

The same stories that Dlamini, Dikeni and others ­decry about Cape Town, still happen in Johannesburg and elsewhere.

White patrons still swear at blacks who are loud in pubs and restaurants.

Whites still try to keep some darkies out using price, culture or other obscure excuses.However, in Johannesburg – which I know better – the blacks are refusing to be cowed.

They continue to go to the pubs, restaurants and other establishments. When they are insulted or chucked out, they make noise and cause a stink.

In Cape Town however, it would appear that black people have resorted to giving the city away to bigots.

My brethren come into the city in the morning and leave it in the afternoon as though they were migrants.

The well-to-do black Capetonians still resort to fraternising shisa nyamas in the townships rather than spending time in the city.

Many others – in fact all of my friends of the 90s – have left for Johannesburg for objective and subjective reasons.We cannot always run away from problems.

It is the responsibility of black Capetonians to stand the fire and drag the white bigots kicking and screaming into the new South Africa.

In that way, the many other Dennehys, Batemans, Moyles and Mosterts will not be persecuted for the sins of their backward brethren. 

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