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The Wretched Blacks of Cape Town

Mandisi Majavu

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About 3 million people live in Cape Town, and out of that 3 million, according to the city economic development and tourism directorate, only 867 052 people are “formally” employed. As a result, in the Cape Metropolitan Area, almost a third of that 3 million live in poverty and almost another third live just above the poverty line. Did I mention the fact that most of the unemployed and who are thought to be engaged in “informal” employment are black/brown ? 68.8 percent women and 80.2 percent men, according to Statistic South Africa, and almost all those who live in poverty and just above poverty are black/brown?


A large percentage of white people who constitute about 20 percent of the population occupy most of the 867 052 “formal” employment. Needless to say, they own or manage most of the workplaces. This is what the apartheid was about after all ? to empower the white, making sure they all had access to the best education the country had to offer, so that when finished with school they can all own five farms, hotels, restaurants and whatever else they thought deserved to be owned by white people. This, of course, was achieved by subjugating and at the expense of the people of colour. In the “new South Africa” the legacy of apartheid lives, however, it?s clothed in neo-liberal economics.

Before going any further, let me explain the race politics of Cape Town. In this city, people of colour are divided into two opposing groups: coloureds and blacks. Just like the French had done in Haiti before the Haitian revolution of 1791, the apartheid regime operated according to a wicked racial hierarchy whereby the coloured people had a favoured status and blacks were at the lowest of the scale. This stupidity that parades as reasoning (i.e. “light black, therefore better than dark black and closer to white") was observed with reverence during apartheid years, in the post-apartheid little has changed. There still exists between the two groups mistrust, if not an outright hostility, that is perpetuated by white political organisations through using slogans like: “swaart gevaar” (beware of the black). Fearing the black does not bring the coloured much though, at the end of the day they both run around serving white-folks, both live in poverty, the townships they live in are infested with gangsters, drug peddlers and both live at the far edges of the city ? some townships are 40km away from the city. White-folks stay in huge mansions in the city and in the west and north of the city close to the beaches and the famous Table Mountain, protected by high walls, with electric fences and big vicious-looking dogs.

Let me start from the beginning.

Historians when telling the South African story always begin from 1652 when Jan Van Riebeeck arrived at the Cape, this is their first mistake. These historians will go further to tell you that when Mr Van Riebeeck arrived at the Cape the first people he encountered were the Khoisan people, however, one is always given the impression that the Khoisan were not really black or African, their second mistake. Khoisan were a black people who had been living in the Southern Africa for more than 8 000 years before the Dutch arrived in the Cape. The Khoisan were made up of two tribes: the Khoikhoi and the San.

Some history books, like the one I did in high school in 1995, made it clear that when Jan Van Riebeeck arrived in the Cape there were no black people, only the Khoisan. The fact that black people have similar physical features as the Khoisan was irrelevant to these so-called scholars and historians. The fact that Xhosa-speaking people, of which I happen to be one of them, use the same click-sounds in their speech as the Khoisan and the fact that Xhosas share the same religious belief system with the Khoisan is still a source of confusion for many historians.

However, Jan Van Riebeeck was not exactly a sociologist who would find such information fascinating, his only worry was to make enough profits for the Dutch East India Company (DEIC). The DEIC was one of the most profitable multinationals of the seventeen century, and from the start it perceived the Cape as its commercial property. The company was involved in slave trading among many of its shady deals.

The minute these businessmen set foot on the African shores, they went to work ? meaning they went to war with the Khoisan, raped their women, stole their land and brought in slaves from India, Indonesia and Madagascar. Interaction between slaves took place, while at the same time the rape of slaves by slave-masters became a norm. And one fine morning, the slave-masters decided to name the children born out of these circumstances coloured.

For 180 years before slavery was abolished the slaves worked hard and lived in miserable conditions building the economy of the Cape, so that the whites could live a luxurious lifestyle that they still maintain to this day. The reputable wine farms of the Cape are all owned by white people and were built by slaves and in our modern times are maintained by means of slave-wages. Nothing has really changed in the post-apartheid, white people still own 84 percent of the arable land. When the ANC came to power in 1994, they promised the people that within five years 30 percent of the land would be redistributed through redistribution and restitution.


Nine years after 1994 the government has managed to reallocate nationwide only 1.5 percent of the land to blacks and coloureds. And of the 36 488 claims that had been settled as of April 2003, almost 80 percent were urban and the majority of these were cash compensation rather than restoration of property, according to the State of the Nation, an annually published political book that aims “to review where we [South Africans] are and where we are going as a nation”.

Only in 2001 was Cape Town integrated into a unified city. During the transition period in 1994 a compromise was reached that the new city metropolitan authority should only address matters which could not “by their nature be effectively” addressed by the seven racially separated municipalities and that the municipalities should “retain maximum” control over local decision-making and implementation.

Furthermore, the new metropolitan boundary was agreed that it would not encompass the wealthy towns of Paarl, Stellenbosch and Wellington. These wine-producing areas, the same wine farms that were built by means of slavery, did not want to be affected by efforts to redistribute resources to the large concentration of poor people within the metropolitan area. This to this day has not changed.

To make sure the systematic exclusion of the black people in the city continued after 1994, the Land Use Planning Ordinance of 1985 that was designed to enforce “managed urbanisation” ? a euphemism for keeping blacks out of the city, was scraped off only in 1998. It is the same act that forced many black people to live in plastic and tin shacks, for it stipulated that black people were to have no access to state approved urban housing. Black people were not expected to live in towns, the ones who were granted legal rights were those with “recognised” employment. This was called the “system of influx control”.


However, that?s all changed now black people can walk freely around town, but cannot afford to live in town. At night the city becomes white, black and coloured people can only be seen during the day, at night they all go back to the townships.

From the “booming” tourism industry black and coloured people receive crumbs. It?s reported that nearly a million international tourists visit Cape Town every year and that tourists spend about R20 billion ($2.8 billion) per annum in the city. Every cent of that money goes to the money-class: the people who own hotels, restaurants, wine farms, etc., poor people are still waiting for the wealth to trickle down to their pockets. Just last month the Congress of South African Trade Union threatened to call for a tourism boycott in Cape Town; claiming that the industry is dominated and monopolised by big hotels and big business. Coloured and black people do not even benefit from township tours, the tours are always staged by a white company. Busses full of Europeans passing through townships have become a norm. And I can assure you there are no black/brown people who own busses in Cape Town.

The city has just opened a R560 million ($80 million) convention centre, which is expected to contribute R25 billion ($3.6 billion) to the gross domestic product in the next decade. A new development in the pipeline is to build “Africa?s first Hollywood-style film studio”. It is expected that the studio will be operational in 2005 and will make about R2 billion a year for the city, and of course through a “trickle-down-effect” everyone is to benefit, so we are told.

However, I?m not sure how much wealth is needed before the “trickle-down-effect” can take place, because the city is the second largest economy in South Africa after Johannesburg, and Cape Town has a highest economic growth rate in the country at 3 percent in 2001. Moreover, the city?s R94 billion ($13 billion) annual economy contributes to the national domestic product 10.8 percent.

Clearly, this “trickle-down-effect” is a lie and is no different to the saying: “blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” It (the trickle-down-effect rhetoric) is meant to disguise the institutionalised racism and unequal distribution of wealth and power period.

Published Monday, October 13th, 2003 - 04:45am GMT

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