Cape Town: From the V&A to Khayelitsha And the Inequality In Between

2014-07-08 10:03

Guest writer Nthabiseng Nooe landed a hand in this latest post...

There is a new wave of ‘non-racialism’ and ‘race blindness’ that is at the hearts of some South Africans. The concept of racial blindness apparently has something to do with making South Africans aware that there is ‘one human race’ and that ‘race does not have to define you or the opportunities accessible to you’ and a lot of other apparently great things.

Although I appreciate the concept of equality, I want to suggest that we need not be in denial that equality in whichever facet is an eventual thing, a goal, rather than our truth. Sure, we can all vote and your vote counts just as much as mine but that cannot be the equality that the people of this country fought and lost their lives for. Inequality persists today. People having to leave townships for work or education in the city live in 2 different worlds, and that is just how life has worked out for them.

Geography Is NOT Colour Blind In Cape Town 

Apartheid geography: the unfortunate and crippling legacy of the apartheid architects. You see apartheid geography in every town and city: there were the suburbs, residential spaces for white people where black people went to clean and take care of babies and cut shrubs in lovely shapes; there was the city which was a ‘shared space’; and there were the townships, kilometres away from the city where black families lived in matchbox houses and had dirt roads. This “past” description of apartheid geography remains a truth for many South Africans 20 years into our democracy, so maybe we should address this before we move to racial blindness and meritocratic states.

The other problem with the concept of racial blindness is that someone is trying to convince South Africans that race is not an issue in this country, but that class is a bigger problem. I was in the City of Cape Town for 5 days and I confirm that I saw that class has a race in South Africa. What I saw in Cape Town is not unique to the city; it’s a South African issue. If you are tired if this ‘race talk’ and you deal with your fatigue by not talking about it or by denying it, you are prolonging the discussion. I suggest we be real about this entire thing.

I went to Cape Town for some work and I extended my stay so that I could experience the city. On my little escapade a friend and I decided to go see some people in Khayelitsha - people that I am convinced are some of the brightest minds in this country who dedicate their lives to community building through an NPO. To get there we took a Metro train from the city and I could swear those are the same train carts that have been used since the train route was opened. I stand corrected.

As I had been told by some people, the train got very full; apparently this is because the trains are few and far in between and regularly late. So we stood there is a crowded train for close to an hour until we got to our stop in Khayelitsha - this is a daily experience for some people.

I am from a township myself, so nothing about Khayelitsha shocked me. You see the usual: informal traders trying to get through life, smaller houses than in the suburbs, roads with notar, house numbers with more than 4 digits and, well, black people. As a matter of fact, black people were all I ever saw in Khayelitsha, which is a township: apartheid geography.(Commenters please refrain from saying but apartheid ended years ago it's time to move on).

We took a taxi back into the city after our visit, which was far more expensive than the train, but we got back into the city in a fraction of the time that we needed to get into Khayelitsha. So I gathered that people cannot afford to be poor in Cape Town especially if they need to get to the city on time, because the train, which is the cheapest mode of transport, is also the most unreliable.

In One City But World's Apart 

The next day, we decided to go to the V&A Waterfront which was a different setup altogether.

For starters, the convenience and reliability of MyCiti busses is remarkable, the added disclaimer is that I am not sure if I saw MyCiti as brilliant because it is or because I took a Metro train the previous day.

We went to Tasha’s, to experience life beyond our usual means, and I was relieved that there were so many black people there; it’s a pity that they were all waiters, actually. In my view, there was exactly one other black couple that was there and I was not shocked. Advocates of racial blindness would say ‘Well we are all equal now. Not all black people are poor anymore there were two black couples in Tasha’s today,’ and we are meant to feel that this is progress for our country and that we can proceed to a meritocracy, even when millions of black South Africans are still at the very bottom, where black people were during apartheid.

If there is no honesty about the daily inconveniences experienced by the poor (read: blacks) and the ease at which white life operates, the race debate will not end. Where we live is actually a small piece of the South African puzzle because we inherited a country that prioritised white affluence at the expense of black humanity, and this is damaging.

Ignore the race of class and we will see, 50 years down the line, black South Africans that have no experience of what a democracy was meant to be because their lives mirror those of their grandparents in apartheid, and it would have had nothing to do with whether they ‘worked hard’ or not.

The geographical set up of the City of Cape Town is shows you that black people are still at bottom of the food chain. And that will only change with radical transformation and equal representation in this country's economy.  It's not reverse racism (whatever that means) but a way to try and redress a racial oppressive history that should have never happened.

You can catch me on Twitter @BongaDlulane and @Nthabynooe

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