Living Coloured ( Because Black and White Were Already Taken)
A true story by Yusuf Daniels
Published by Jacana Media
Not many outsiders can get a grip on what life on the Cape Flats is like. A fear of gangsterism and violence entrenches all the usual stereotypes – some too close to the truth and others far from it.
It depends on your personal prejudices about a community that really is misunderstood and stuck in the middle – as we all grew up hearing and then went on to repeat. Quite frankly, I don’t think we are people that anyone wants to understand. Or at least I see very little effort to.
Look at the news headlines. This is a community that’s in crisis. I don’t remember a time when it wasn’t. With cries for help and government intervention, it has always felt like a “laat hulle mekaar vrek maak [let them kill one another]” mentality. See, this is a tale of a complicated history and a complicated present-day reality. Socially it’s crippling for those who have to survive on the outskirts of the rainbow that they were promised but never got to experience. If a boy makes it to the age of 21, then what a unicorn he is.
Now the life expectancy has dropped to 14.
Sadly, it’s what coloured life is like, I say out of sheer hopelessness. Not for my people, but for the hopes of a saviour.
Comedian Donovan Goliath says it best about first-time author Yusuf Daniels’ Living Coloured: “This book says proudly that I am enough, my stories do matter and they are mine to tell.”
And so Daniels tells poignantly familiar stories about growing up on the Cape Flats. We all seemed to have played the same games, navigated our childhood friendships similarly and had a replica of those stereotypically coloured aunties as neighbours. All things these New Age tech kids are missing out on; from Bok Bok to Knicks, everyone joined in from child to parent.
But within that bubble or fishbowl we were forced into, one of exclusion and where violence exists, there’s a resilient community that’s tightly knit and determined to keep one eye on the bright side. Daniels (43) grew up in Bridgetown, Athlone, and Portlands in Mitchells Plain. Living Coloured happened after Daniels started writing his childhood stories about street games, family camping, beach days and Muslim traditions on Facebook for fun. Though I grew up in the northern suburbs of Cape Town, in Belhar, and I am just about a decade younger than Daniels, this book brought on very familiar and endearing memories.
If you want to understand what life as a child during apartheid was like, then Living Coloured reflects on it hilariously well.
I struggled to find something that I didn’t love about the book. It’s filled with necessary reflections of difficult times. And, no, the endless bursts of laughter you’re going to experience are by no means a brush-off of a forgotten and traumatised community – it speaks of how everyone in the coloured community in Cape Town and across the country has found common threads and coping mechanisms. It’s not a long read, but a long and pleasant stroll down memory lane.
One that you don’t want to come to an end. Daniels brings honour to what coloured identity was and is today through his eyes as a laaitie.
If you’re looking to understand the character and complexities of the coloured community, then this is a perfect glimpse into what living coloured is really like.