Marianne Thamm

Proudly Capetonian

2007-04-05 09:24

Marianne Thamm

"Since when have the Somalis become taxi gaartjies?" my friend who returned to Cape Town after living in Joburg for 10 years asked.

"You mean sliding door operators," I corrected him.

Like many young, black professionals, my friend's departure from his home, the "Mother City", a little over a decade ago was an emotional one for us both.

"I can't live here anymore. I go into a shop and suddenly the security guards follow me. I catch a taxi and the coloured passengers abuse me. I go to restaurants and I only see white diners," he told me back then.

"Some of the coloured passengers might view themselves as black," I reminded him.

"Well, not those who swear at me daily," he responded.

And so off he went to Gauteng where he soon found a good, well-paid job and a city, Joburg, where he felt welcomed, nurtured and at home.

"You know, I walk in the streets here (Joburg) and I see myself reflected," he told me.

My friend's assessment of Cape Town back then was an accurate one.

A divided city

Ten years ago the city was divided; up its own self-centred Eurocentric bum in some places, down the tubes in others and just plain awesomely beautiful in between.

The city, as ANC MP and Deputy General Secretary of the SACP, Jeremy Cronin, writes in his essay published in the collection 'A City Imagined' (Penguin 2006) is "not well liked by many of the new political and professional elite in our country" not only because of its "political unreliability" but also, he charges, because the city's diversity challenges notions of racial superiority both white and "African".

Blackman Ngoro, former Cape Town mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo's advisor, offered a shocking glimpse of this worldview - mercifully held by a minority of South Africans - when he posted a libellous, racist rant about Coloureds on his website.

It is fashionable and easy to charge that Cape Town is "racist" - as so many upcountry callers to radio talk shows still tend to do - that it is "Slaapstad", a "Visdorpie" or a "backwater".

It is a cop-out to claim that because the DA formed a coalition city government with other parties in 2006 that the city is "anti-African". All it means is that the ANC in the Western Cape ran a lacklustre campaign and lost. Nothing more, nothing less.

Besides the ANC still runs the province.

A convenient excuse

It's a convenient excuse to say that the Cape is racist when dodging the complexities and challenges of living in a province with population demographics that place no one specific ethic, cultural, language or religious group in the majority.

Of course the atmosphere in Cape Town is racially charged, it would be a miracle if it were not. But this does not automatically mean it is a hostile, adversarial or abusive space.

I enjoy living in Cape Town because I am often challenged and provoked into considering a number of worldviews that may differ with or even alter my own.

Xhosa, Afrikaans, English, Arabic, French, German, Yoruba, Portuguese, Dutch, Somali, Chinese and Hindi are just some of the languages you will hear on the streets in this city.

But apart from this modern, African global ethos, the city's history (much of it painful) is still etched into the landscape and the ghosts of our ancestors are still visible in the city's inhabitants themselves.

Cronin writes that "the clicks of ancient civilisations continue to sound in the Nguni family of languages in our country, and, indeed, more and more in Cape Town as the long-collapsed peasant economies of the Eastern Cape create burgeoning squatter camps around the city."

These are the clicks of the "first people" of the Cape - the Khoi, the Cochoqua, the Gorachoqua and the Goringhaiqua.

The city may be described in tourist brochures as "cosmopolitan" but it is no more so than Joburg. There is no doubt that this is a proudly African city - just visit downtown Cape Town and see for yourself.

My friend has been back in Cape Town for four months now and apart from adjusting to the slower pace, is loving it.

"Man, what's happened? It's fantastic. People from over the world are here. And everyone's so friendly!"

So next time you plan to slag off your "Mother", find out more before you diss her.

Send your comments to Marianne.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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