Admittedly, we’re a bit like pre-World War II America down here in the Western Cape, enjoying our splendid isolation from the rest of the country and only feigning interest in the nation’s comings and goings when we’re forcibly dragged into the conversation.
Such an occasion occurred last week, and has carried over to this week, with two pieces in the Cape Times by the self-styled urbane voice of black South Africa, Khaya Dlanga.
Feathers were ruffled and throats were harrumphed after Dlanga tormented Capetonians with tales of a white ceiling in the city (mines a kind of Humpty-Dumptyish eggshell), mixed with the musings of a German tourist who’d clearly mistaken Durban for the Mother City when asked to offer an opinion on the pros and cons of visiting Fortress Zille.
For those who missed the brouhaha, the gist of the opinion was that racism exists in Cape Town – stop the presses – and black South Africans would only find their place at the head of the table if they moved to Joburg (which is probably true for all South Africans, considering the only job options in Cape Town are fisherman and ad agency creative – and you actually need some talent to be a fisherman).
Prepare to be shocked, but I wholly agree with Dlanga’s assessment of the city. I’ve long referred to the European Capital of South Africa as a friendly seaside resort with just the tiniest hint of industry visible…how else to explain the “rush hour” traffic at Cavendish Square around noon every day. If you want Africa, get to Joburg.
What I don’t agree with, however, is Dlanga’s sloppy generalisations in describing the schizophrenic city of Cape Town, and his follow up piece (a mea culpa in my eyes) where he implores us to not trivialise racism and the race debate. I say trivialise it to death. Make it so the ignoramuses out there can’t use it as an unfair criticism. Make it a laughing matter, so that the power of racist words are diminished.
As above, I also don’t concur with his views that to beat racism we need to talk and constantly write about racism (certainly it might help in some small way, but not when it’s written in a way that Dlanga knows, full well, will only get the backs of citizens’ raised quicker than a kitten’s when dropped into a puppy pound of starved ridgebacks).
The sad truth is racism is going nowhere. It’s here to stay. And no amount of opining and whining about it will do anything to help make it disappear. People will always fear and hate what they don’t know.
How do we change that – I don’t know. I’m not clever enough to solve the one problem that’s been plaguing the world since one group decided they were better than the next. But I do know that opinion pieces like Dlanga’s are the heat that further melts the glue we all so desperately want to bind us together.
I see no point in opinionistas airing their views on racism, because those views fall on deaf ears and blind eyes. Sure, Dlanga’s piece has got some airtime amongst media types. But now what? Where’s the change? Where’s the evolution of the Eastern Cape resident who happily calls black South Africans kaffirs without batting an eyelid. Because if you want racism that’s still brutal and blunt, and not merely hinted at (not that that’s okay either, serious types), why not try the country’s forgotten province, the beautiful but angry Eastern Cape.
It’s my honest belief that the people who consume this kind of media (Dlanga’s opinions or mine) are simply looking for someone that they can agree with, or someone they can argue with. They don’t care about change.
As much as people like Dlanga and me would like to believe it, the people (the wider bulk of a nation, any nation) don’t take their cues from clowns like us. They might read us, enjoy us, agree or argue with us. But that is it.
I’d even go so far as to say that racism isn’t even in the top five things we should be worrying about in South Africa. An uncertain future for all, yes. Declining standards of education, yes. Violent crime, as ever, yes. Government corruption, yes. Job creation, yes. Getting people out of townships, yes. Let’s solve those issues.
But racism. I think that’s a lazy out for tired columnists. It happens, and it’s awful and one day we’ll all sit around hugging each other (and I know I’m going to get “but it doesn’t happen to you” and I’m well aware of that), but if it’s based on something someone said to a friend who heard it from a tourist who wanted to go to Joburg because they fit in and a cashier in Cape Town winked at me funny because the black man behind me had a All Blacks hat on. Come on, guys. That’s not good enough.
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