Cape Town & race – White on white

2012-02-11 13:07

Some of my best friends are white Capetonians. For six years in the 1990s, I was a white Capetonian too.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that all white Capetonians weren’t the same. During my stay in the Western Cape, I shared school benches with the son of an apartheid hit squad policeman who showed off his torture manoeuvres to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission while we were trying to understand algebra.

At Stellenbosch University, I shared lecture halls with the scions of what Julius Malema calls the “Stellenbosch Mafia” – the rich kids with shares, family trusts and Audi TTs. I did not feel completely comfortable in either environment.

In fact, as a teenager trying to figure out his place under the sun, I often had difficulty navigating between these worlds, both governed by their own rules, etiquette and rites of passage.
I will not pretend to know the experiences of black people who suffer racism at the hands of white Capetonians.

What I do know is that racial identity in Cape Town, as in South Africa, is far too complex to be hung with easy labels like “racist white Capetonians”.

And, as in Africa, colonial geography is largely to blame for the massive segregation still present in Cape Town 2012, not only between different races, but intraracially.

Cape Town’s whites are broadly made up of four groups: the English-speaking, Cape Times-reading, Earl Grey-drinking southern suburbanites; the cosmopolitan yuppies from the City Bowl with their Investec jobs and Melissa’s cookies; the V6-driving, brandy-drinking mechanics from Parow and Kraaifontein (think Die Antwoord’s music videos); and readers of Die Burger, the Afrikaans-speaking middle and upper classes from Tygerberg to Stellenbosch and Paarl, with their varying degrees of wealth.

Then there are smaller groups: the surfers from Table View, the super-rich from Constantia and Fresnaye, the greenies from Fish Hoek – all bound by their love of booze, Helen Zille and Western Province.

There is minimal migration between these different groups and almost zero effort to break down class boundaries. Historical ties trump democratic aspirations.

I matriculated in the Afrikaans northern suburbs and was one of the privileged few from my school to go to university. The majority of my schoolmates didn’t study after matric and still live in the same neighbourhood, where they man the butcheries and populate the supermarkets.

At Stellenbosch, I was exposed to the Afrikaner elite – the rich, on-the-surface liberal kids from Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Paarl who were into their overseas holidays, fancy cars and promiscuous sex.

Your 21st birthday party would be held at your uncle’s wine farm and somewhere down your pedigree was a dead prime minister or Springbok captain.

These kids travel the world, complete their honours degrees at universities in Europe or the States and when they are bored, they return to Cape Town, where they are appointed to the board of a private equity firm or a supermarket conglomerate.

Back in the suburbs, my schoolmates are procreating, making children who, they hope, will be just like them.

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