The Cape of backdoor racism

2011-05-07 13:17

Cape Town has a race problem and the people of this city and the authorities need to nip it in the bud instead of denying it, or worse,
justifying it.

Whether it is a visit to the local supermarket, a visit to the mall or an evening out at a night club, it seems that Cape Town somehow still disguises some of its most caustic attitudes towards its black residents and visitors.

It has become the norm for those whose kneejerk reaction is to defend their beloved city to deny that these incidents are racial.

But what is worse is that some not only justify these incidents, they often go on to blame the victims of these very incidents.

But there are just too many cases of reported racism or racial profiling in the Mother City for anyone who genuinely cares about the reputation of Cape Town to dismiss them.

One of the most recent incidents involves angry protesters gathered outside the Blue Downs Magistrate’s Court to express their outrage at the actions of two men they accused of a racial attack on four workers at a Blackheath factory.

This adds to the tally of incidents that highlights Cape Town’s growing race problem.

From the reports, it appears that the four workers were assaulted and insults were hurled at them.

What was particularly disturbing was to read the placards that were carried by some of the protesters. One of them read: “You tortured our forefathers. Down with racism!”

In the same week, three diners were grabbed by security guards just after finishing a leisurely dinner and led to an hour-long interrogation in a back room at the V&A Waterfront – all because a waiter had said he had seen “three short black people robbing the mall” the week before.

Now nothing could be more generic than such a description and you have to wonder how these security guards had sufficient information to accost those three patrons.

But this incident points to all the problems that are created by racial profiling, and it seems that Cape Town takes the lead in the practice of this most discriminatory of practices.

While these two incidents involve force and a degree of violence, the most pervasive forms of racism that are linked to Cape Town are often well disguised, but still no less humiliating.

Those unfamiliar with racial profiling probably imagine that it is used primarily as a tool to combat crime, but it is, in fact, used as a random tool
of discrimination.

Using racial profiling as a tool, someone can decide as you enter their shop whether you are more likely to buy something or whether you are more likely to steal something.

A friend from Bekkersdal on Joburg’s West Rand, who took a job as a manager of a hotel in the Cape Town CBD, says that when she goes to the boutiques at the V&A Waterfront, she is often ignored by white staff.

“I cannot understand why they think it’s okay to be so polite, even fawning, towards white customers and yet be so cold to me when I’ve come to spend the same money,” she says.

She adds that even a simple visit to the supermarket can become a traumatic event as the staff seem to have one script for white customers, which emphasises warmth, and another for black customers, which involves being curt and even rude.

An American friend who settled in Cape Town after emigrating to South Africa says that when he goes out to night clubs or restaurants in the city, he is often surprised by the stealth used by those who want to bar blacks from entering.

“Their favourite line is to say the place is full. But when I come, suddenly a place is available.

“So they won’t ever directly say that they don’t want a black person as a patron, but they have this practice of claiming the place is full when it is not.”

Such practices of racial discrimination are in bad taste and, given South Africa’s sordid history of racial discrimination and apartheid, you would expect that those who speak on behalf of Cape Town would spend more of their time rooting out these hateful practices rather than defending them.

But it seems that their energies are solely focused on ganging up against those who dare express their anger and disappointment that racism is still alive and well at so many of the city’s establishments.

Those who dismiss the charges of racism levelled against the city forget that this kind of discrimination is illegal and unconstitutional, and perhaps it won’t be long before a class action suit is brought against those still intent on perpetrating apartheid via the back door.


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