Freedom Day, how far are we from the beer-advert ideal of a racial utopia?

2015-04-27 08:00

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Ntombizodwa Makhoba, S’thembile Cele and Biénne Huisman went pub crawling on one of football’s biggest nights to find out.

We’ve all seen them – TV beer advertisements starring three young men, one white and two black, bonding over their favourite team in a pub and clinking bottles in a racial utopian idyll.

Along with the beer, the image we are being sold is one of what we’d like to become, not of what we really are.

Figures from the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation’s 2014 reconciliation barometer showed that, although more South Africans socialised across race groups in 2013 than in the previous decade, young adults were growing further apart.

The report revealed that almost half (47%) of wealthier South Africans said they “often or always” socialised with someone from another race, as opposed to 24% in 2003.

By contrast, 13% of South Africans in the lowest income groups socialised across race groups, compared with 6% in 2003.

However, the institute also reported that only about half the number of whites believed apartheid was a crime against humanity, and that, when young white South Africans were questioned about it by researchers, they were largely defensive and believed it had nothing to do with them.

On Wednesday night, almost 21 years after South Africa became a democracy, nattily dressed students and young professionals – many of whom looked as if they could have starred in those selfsame beer adverts – gathered in pubs in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

It was a big night: Kaizer Chiefs played Polokwane City and thumped them 4-1 to clinch the Premier Soccer League (PSL) title. There was also plenty of European Champions League action, with Real Madrid beating Atlético Madrid 1-0 to advance to the semifinals of the big club competition.

But multiracial soccer fandom was not on display at a pub in Auckland Park’s Campus Square, Joburg, where Junior Sesipeng, a 24-year-old sports management student and personal trainer had met his black friends to watch Chiefs in action at 7.30pm.

Nearby, a table of about seven young white patrons chatted and drank, hardly glancing at the television. On the other side sat a large table of 11 black and five coloured men, watching their beloved Amakhosi doing their thing. The group, engrossed in the action, were not up to having a conversation.

According to the 2011 census, the neighbourhood is in a ward that’s home to more than 33?000 people, 41% of whom are black, 26% coloured, 16% white and 15% Asian.

At the bar, Sesipeng said, between cheers and shouts: “I have a lot of white and black friends. We all watch a bunch of sports together: rugby, soccer and cricket.

“My white friends aren’t here tonight, but generally we do most sporting events together. On the weekends we watch a lot of [English] Premier League matches together.”

But Sesipeng said his white friends would rather watch Champions League matches.

“They don’t really watch PSL matches with me and I think it’s because the South African league is not branded in a way that attracts their viewership,” he said.

“Most of the time we watch Champions League together. They don’t know much about the PSL – I’m teaching them.”

Perhaps the fact that it was the week before payday was the reason there were fewer people patronising the student pubs. The hang-out next door was virtually empty, with only a table of two young black men watching the soccer.

However, about 6km away in the trendy suburb of Parkhurst, the young professionals at two popular pubs showed no such restraint. Parkhurst is in a ward of nearly 20?000 people, where only 28% of residents are black and 63% white, according to the 2011 census.

At a popular bar sat 23-year-old postgraduate law student Samantha Sarjoo with a black friend. Dressed in a tracksuit top and jeans, the self-confessed football fanatic was there to support her favourite team – Atlético Madrid.

The two friends sat in the middle of a long bench in front of the television with crowds of white people and a few black patrons on either side.

Sarjoo believes the idea of a racially integrated beer-drinking utopia is a myth.

“We’re 21 years in and the only thing that’s different is that there’s no sign outside the bar saying ‘whites only’ or ‘blacks only’.

“The people in the bar are still generally the same colour as each other.

“I watch every kind of sport and it really doesn’t matter what sport it is.

“Until I was 20 years old, all the friends in my circle were white. I was ‘just white enough’ then, but now, at 23 years old, my circle is coloured and black,” she said.

Despite that, Sarjoo hasn’t really become a fan of the Absa Premiership.

“I don’t generally watch PSL games, I guess being convinced I was white for the biggest part of my life played a role in this. My dad and brother watch it?...?so I have no excuse, but I do watch Bafana Bafana.”

At another trendy pub across the road, City Press met Robin de Jager, a 28-year-old conceptualist and art director at advertising agency Bladeworks.

He has worked on some of the beer adverts we have seen on our small screens. He was sitting at a table with a black man and two white women.

De Jager said that, in his circles at least, the beer-ad idyll had been achieved.

“When it comes to Castle adverts and others that have that same idea of togetherness and diversity, I think it’s an accurate reflection of where we are at,” he said.

“I’ve been involved in making a lot of those kinds of adverts. There might be a little glitter added, because adverts are there to sell and make money, after all.

“But the idea of black, white, coloured and Indian people together having a good time enjoying a sports match is a reality.”

The pub was full of young and trendy patrons in jeans and takkies. The crowd was far from integrated – it was made up of mainly white people with a few black and coloured faces.

At a nearby table sat Vukile Simelani, a 36-year-old scientist who lived in Hyde Park.

“I come to this place a lot. Tonight, I came alone and I’m sitting with a guy who sometimes comes here too. We’re having a drink and enjoying a game, we both love Real Madrid,” he said.

“I feel that, after 21 years of democracy, South Africans can say they are free. I come here so often that the place has named a pizza after me, the Vuki Spicy Mexicana.”

But Simelani admitted his relative privilege made it easier for him to hold his views.

“Of course, the place we are in makes it easy to have this view of South Africa. Johannesburg is one of the most cosmopolitan places in the country, I understand that things might not look like this in other parts of the country.”

Meanwhile, 1?400km away at a trendy cigar lounge and club in Greenpoint, Cape Town, the only person watching the game was gas-technology quality manager Tshomarelo Moche.

Moche (34), who was in Cape Town for business, was dressed for the occasion in his yellow Chiefs shirt, sitting by himself at the bar and cheering between sips of beer when his team scored early goals.

“Ja, I can’t believe it’s so quiet here in Cape Town. No one is watching the game,” he told City Press.

There was a decided lack of multiracial beer-drinking enjoyment at the establishment, known as one of the city’s most racially integrated hang-outs.

Near Moche, a group of 10 coloured patrons sat at a VIP booth looking at menus. Nearby sat two white women and, at another, two black women shared a hookah pipe.

The only obvious sign of interracial engagement was on the other side of the bar, where a white woman and coloured man, both employees, cracked jokes and laughed.

Because, after all, not all South Africans come together with a Castle.

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