A new ad from the Western Cape Government features a group of coloured men who are obviously gangsters, drinking beer and playing dominoes with their guns next to them on the table.
Someone runs in to whisper something into the ring leader’s ear and the men all get up, cock their guns and run to a car. No one gets into the driver’s seat.
The ring leader says “Ouens, wie gaan die kar ry? Ek is dronk, man.” (Guys, who’s going to drive the car? I’m drunk, man)
The rest of the gang then starts arguing and making excuses before the guy in the middle says: "My broe, deesdae is die boere op en af. Ek wil nie in daai pypie blaas nie, my broe, man.” (My brother, these days the cops are everywhere. I don't want to be breathalysed.)
The man in front then suggests: “Lat ons ‘n taxi phone man.” (Let's just call a taxi.)
Watch the ad below
If you’re wondering why this ad is offensive, then you obviously fail to see the problem with perpetuating the stereotype that coloured people are gangsters.
Almost every time I’ve seen a coloured man in an ad, he’s a criminal or a jester. He’s the gangster in the back of the police van saying “Pappa wag vir jou” or the Cape Minstrel dancing for your pleasure because in media, coloured people can only either be involved in serious crime or dancing around trying to amuse you.
According to IOL, Siphesihle Dube, spokesperson for the Minister of Transport and Public Works in the Western Cape, Donald Grant, says they don’t see anything wrong with the ad because it clearly says that alcohol and roads don’t mix and that the ad “points out that even the most irresponsible and criminal elements in our society, gangsters, should think twice about taking to the road after drinking.”
I can see what the ad was supposed to be doing. It was supposed to get us all to laugh at the fact that even criminals who break the law daily are adverse to drunk driving because that’s how stupid it is.
We’re supposed to identify with and laugh at these characters who look like us and really take the message to heart. Oh, ha ha. How funny.
Funny that coloured people are here for your amusement. That we can only be seen as gangsters who use slang and are violent because how else would you know we’re coloured, right?
Except there are a lot more to coloured people than drugs, alcohol or colourful clothing and dancing in the streets.
Which is why, before you accuse us of crying racism (and we are by the way, because this is racism), we’d like you to stop and listen. Because why is it that whenever there’s an ad featuring a coloured person, we’re upheld to be the dregs of society?
Why do we constantly need to defend what we look like, what we sound like and how we act when you refuse to understand that we’re more than the circumstances that many of us (through no choice of our own and because the government does sweet nothing to help) are living in?
No one is denying that drugs, alcohol and gangsterism are big issues, especially in the Cape Flats, but when you’re using a community’s problem to highlight another problem in a way that makes the one problem lesser, then regardless of your good intentions or not, you’re actually making us the butt of a joke we never asked to be part of.
Telling us that you’ve used a small group of coloured people to gauge reactions is a cop-out that is dismissive at best, and ignorant at worst.
Comedians know the concepts of punching down and punching up. Good comedians will “punch up” to mock privileged and empowered structures as a means to dismantle the very institutions that have been serving to oppressed marginalised groups for centuries. Bad comedians punch down.
What we see in this ad is “punching down”. It targets people that have been systematically and racially discriminated against for years, and are still facing racism - if this ad is anything to go by. It’s not funny and it’s lazy.
Let me tell you something – it’s ads like this that not only serve to perpetuate ugly stereotypes amongst the greater South African community, but also continues to propagate the ugly classism that’s rife amongst the coloured folk of our country.
And it exists because I see it around me. In fact, I myself am guilty of it, which is why this piece is so important for me to write. I’m speaking to myself, I’m speaking up for others and I’m speaking to the people who keep thinking we’re nothing but drunken guttersnipes who provide comedic fodder for your viewing pleasure.
There were many ways they could have gotten their message of not drinking and driving across, and yet, they chose this.
The targeting, stereotyping and mocking of marginalised groups is nothing new, and when it comes to issues regarding reporting on the Cape Flats, most of what we see is negative. There’s only talk about the levels of crime and drugs affecting the area. Do we ever celebrate and uplift the people on the Cape Flats?
Rarely, which is why we’re going to take a little time out to introduce you to some folk who deserve to be lauded for what they’re doing for their community:
Paul is a former fire fighter who completely turned his life around after becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol. His remarkable journey really starts when he was rescued and taken in by Glenda Hendricks from the Ngedi Soup Kitchen. Under her wing he soon decided he wanted to make a change.
Fast forward a few years later and Paul is now the founder of Hands of Honour, an enterprise which runs a variety of community projects and aims to reduce unemployment by offering people a chance to be carpenters or manual labourers.
We interviewed him a while back – and you can read his full story here.
This is probably one of my favourite stories considering that I’m an avid bibliophile. According to IOL, he first captured the hearts of South African readers when it was discovered that he created a library in his own backyard to promote reading inside of the community.
Many people have since donated even more books and his library is now more than 5 000 books strong.
How awesome is that?
My family have their own experiences too. Most of them grew up in the Cape Flats area and my cousin, Yolanda is one of them. Her story is particularly inspiring because she grew up in Lavender Hills – an area that to this day has always had the worst reputation. She’s had to study and work hard all of her life and yet, the area that she lived in has never defined her.
Today she has shares in the company she works for and is more than able to give her kids the best education possible.
It’s the stories like this that speak of the real spirit of the people who hail from the Cape Flats – and ones we don’t hear very often.
In writing this, we’d like to invite you to share your stories and send pictures of family members (or anyone you know) who grew up in the Cape Flats and other areas and have similar inspiring stories to tell.
We’d love to feature them and let their stories be heard. After all, making voices heard starts with us giving people a platform to speak, and no voice has been as maligned as those who hail from the Cape Flats.
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