Georgina Guedes

Where are the Worcester whites’ identity cards?

2015-03-11 11:20

Georgina Guedes

A (white) friend of mine worked in a book shop. A (black) employee of hers was manning the front desk when a customer approached. He wanted a book recommendation and squirmed uncomfortably while asking the shop assistant if there was “anyone else”?

The shop assistant called my friend and the much relieved customer asked if she could recommend any other books by a certain author. My friend responded that she hadn’t read that author, but believed that the shop assistant had. She turned to her employee and asked if he had any suggestions.

The customer’s assumption that a young black man (employed to work in a bookshop) would not have read a book is symptomatic of the kind of engendered racism that white people just have. The more enlightened among us question it, fight it and attempt to overcome it every day, but there’s no denying that it exists.

And then, you hear of communities of white people who aren’t even trying to overcome their prejudice. In fact, they seek to reinforce it by implementing practices that bear the weight of some of the worst crimes against humanity that society has ever known.

Dompases in Worcester

I’m talking, of course, about the “green identity card” system that residents of Worcester in the Western Cape have introduced to aid in the identification of black people who have a right to be in the area.

Now, if we are to assume the best of the residents associations of Worcester and take them at their word, the reason for this was simply to help the “good blacks” to find employment in the area. The card verifies that the individual carrying it has had a criminal background check and has been employed by other residents in the area.

Even if this well-intended justification were true, the residents of the town would surely be aware that they were perpetuating racist behaviours that saw black South Africans required to carry pass books during apartheid or Jewish German citizens to wear yellow armbands before ultimately exterminating them in the Holocaust.

While these might be extreme examples, there is a cultural weight to identifying citizens as somehow “other”. Simply put, are we to believe that any black South African walking the street of Worcester without an ID card in their possession is up to no good?

The worst (and likely) case

If we are not to assume the best of the residents of Worcester (which I am disinclined to do, given the complete madness of implementing a system like this), I don’t believe that the cards are some kind of job reference. I think that they are an attempt to clamp down on black people who residents believe have no business walking their streets.
Because honestly, how frequently is casual labour rotated in Worcester that cards are needed to do a job that could be done perfectly well by a letter of reference or the provision of a phone number?  

I believe that the purpose of the cards was to weed out the “good blacks” from the “bad blacks”, which reaffirms the base assumption that an unverified black person is bad. Because it’s not as if any white people have been asked to carry cards while they roam the streets of Worcester.

Worcester Residents Associations, stop trying to save face. You did a bad thing. Learn from it, say sorry, and write great references on paper for your star employees.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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