The arrival of Jan van Riebeeck to the gorgeous city of Cape Town paved the way for the segregation of the local black population in the costal town. “They are by no means to be trusted, being a brutal people living without conscience,” he wrote in his diary. Now it can be clearly seen that Riebeeck’s point of view has taken its toll on the city, Tibebeselassie Tigabu.
“They are like stupid animals. We should tie them with a rope. Too many Africans flocking to Hout Bay…Draw up a petition. Soon there will be nothing left of Hout Bay,” a Cape Town resident named Vanessa Hartley fumed in a Facebook post resenting the presence of immigrants in Cape Town’s Hout Bay area, situated in a valley on the Atlantic seaboard of the Cape Peninsula.
Social media users were fired up by this dreadful and vulgar comment and the continuity of white racism and entitlement.
This happening in Africa, a land of black people, might be a bit shocking but going to Cape Town, many black people feel the echoes of white supremacy, white superiority, and aesthetics. Among white people, the narrative of how Cape Town came to be completely transformed whitewashes the brutality of settler colonialism. The grand narrative is that Cape Town is an organic “European city” with white settlers.
While for the majority of black people the city represents an irreconcilable history of the oppressor white minority; a ruthless blood-shedding legacy; a marginalized black and colored population and an affluent entitled white people. Still, more than two decades after the end of apartheid, the spirit of the discriminatory system is felt as it tries to hold its grip on a bastion of white rule. Side by side with the myth of the rainbow nation exists irreconcilable history, continued oppression, and an economically marginalized black majority.
Browsing online about Cape Town also gives the impression of a lingering apartheid system with restaurants still refusing to serve black customers at empty restaurants. If one digs deeper looking for such incidents in the city, one is bound to come across more shocking stories.
An article entitled ‘Cape Town – the hub of racism? Five recent incidents’ on a website called The Citizen highlights the disillusionment of some with the rainbow nation.
One of the shocking incidents is the case of a 19-year-old model and University of Cape Town student, allegedly claiming he did not “see anything wrong with urinating on the top of a black person.”
He refused to apologize to a Khayelitisha township taxi driver after allegedly urinating on him from a nightclub balcony. Another incident is that of a Cape Town salesperson, Andre van Deventer, who reportedly assaulted, racially abused, and spat in the face of his ex-girlfriend’s domestic worker, Gloria Kente.
What is more, there are incidents of white students in blackface mocking black maids and the like. On the other hand, Cape Town is a city with breath-taking scenery and beautiful beaches, with vineyards adding to the grace of the majestic Table Mountain.
Flat-topped and with a commanding view of the beautiful city, Table Mountain is one of Cape Town’s tourist attractions. One of the new seven wonders of nature, the aerial cableway takes passengers from the lower cable station to the top of the mountain, at 1067m.
Cape Town is a place for unique experiences and adventures such as paragliding that give a feeling of flying while gliding over the sea and mountain.
With upscale shopping complex, world-class restaurants, markets, an amphitheater for outdoor events surrounded by numerous five-star hotels, and such attractions as Boulders Beach, Winelands, Clifton Beach in the height of summer, Cape Point, Sea Point Promenade, Big Wave surfing at Dungeons, Cape Town indeed offers tourists an unforgettable experience.
Naturally, Cape Town is a gifted land that also attracts various film companies such as the 2012 blockbuster movie American action thriller ‘Safe House,’ starring Denzel Washington.
Dubbed one of the most beautiful cities on earth, The Reporter was invited to take part in the 8th Africa Samsung Forum, held from February 21 to 26 at the Cape Town International Convention Center.
After a six-hour flight, we arrived at Cape Town International Airport. A white Afrikaner who claimed to be a history buff welcomed us. He wasted no time to tell us that Cape Town is also called mother city because the settlement of white people started in Cape Town.
Though the indigenous Khoisan people had inhabited the land for thousands of years before the coming of white people, with their “Columbus syndrome” claiming to discover continents such as America, white people also claim to have founded Cape Town.
It was around the 15th century that the Portuguese arrived in Cape Town. Later British and Dutch colonialists and traders used the island as an outpost and prison for many years. This is where white people started taking the cows and land from the Khoisan for barely anything in return. This is where white settler colonialism was initiated.
The arrival of the Dutch colonial administrator Jan van Riebeeck who was employed by the Dutch East India Company in the Cape in 1652 made the area a supply station that opened South Africa for white settlement.
In a speech in Cape Town in January 2015, President Jacob Zuma said, “Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival in Cape Town was the beginning of all South Africa’s problems.”
According to an article in The Guardian entitled “Apartheid ended 20 years ago, so why is Cape Town still a paradise for the few?” Jan van Riebeeck proposed a typically “Dutch solution of digging a canal across the Cape Peninsular to separate the white paradise as a self-contained island, cut off from the rest of ‘darkest Africa’.”
“Unable to realize this ambitious project, he instead decided to plant a bitter almond hedge to keep the “black stinking dogs” out of his settlement, accompanied by brambles and thorny bushes designed to ward off this “savage set, living without conscience” the article reads.
Our liberal white driver interrupts the story and talks about the greatness, the sheer brilliance, and the forgiving nature of Nelson Mandela. Strongly believing in the democratic rainbow nation, the driver says that the end of apartheid also brought respect, equality and equal opportunity among various races.
The highly criticized Mandela (ANC) negotiation with the Nationalist Party, formally bringing an end to the apartheid system, yet the continuing of “white monopoly” does not seem to matter to the driver. Rather, he prefers to talk about the beauty and positive side of the city.
Even the idea of beauty become contentious for which part of the city this “beauty” applies.
Systematic segregation of the late 19th and early 20th centuries pursued by the British colonial government forcefully resettled black communities. This systematic historical injustice got worse with the Urban Areas Act of 1923, which preceded apartheid legislation by 25 years.
This act prevented the acquisition of land by the native and limited their movement. This was enacted by parliament and the indigenous Africans were forcefully removed from the desirable city centers.
The draconian law of apartheid created such exclusive white suburbs as Walmer, Estate, Zonnebloem and Lower Verde. Starting from 1948, a more stringent zoning and racial segregation system was put in place.
An apartheid law forcibly evicted more than 60,000 inhabitants from a former inner city residential area called District six. According to District six museum archives and footages before the destruction, the place was a vibrant musical joint, a place for writers, and politicians at the forefront of the struggle and highly contributed to South African jazz. The famous pianist Abdullah Ibrahim who was a frequent visitor describes the area to The Guardian as “a fantastic city within a city. Where you felt the first of apartheid, it was the valve to release some of the pressure. In the late 50s and 60s when the regime clamped down, it was still a place where people could mix freely.”
The blacks/colored were thrown into peripheral townships in so-called “matchbox houses” within large compounds with only two or three points of entry. The townships were designed along the lines of military barracks. These grand apartheid-era housing schemes still exist today, predominantly occupied by blacks and colored people.
As part of the forum, there was a city tour package that gave us an opportunity to visit different parts of the city. A white guide proudly told journalists from Africa that ‘Cape Town is not an African city; it’s rather a European city.’ He went further discussing the historical architecture of Cape Town such as classical Victorian, a series of revival styles of the mid-late 19th century, Cape Dutch and other European influences in the city. He tried to justify the colonial history of Cape Town by saying the winners always get to dictate history.
According to him, the indigenous Khoisan are the losers of history as were the Native Americans in America, the Aborigines in Australia, the Inuit in Canada and other indigenous communities which were exterminated by white people.
With the whitewashing of Cape Town’s history, Cape Town is one of the most liberal, accommodative, and metropolitan cities. Yet, it is impossible to hide the brutal history of slavery and colonization.
One of the oldest marks of that history is a slave lodge building. Now converted into a museum, throughout the years it has been the site of slave accommodation, government offices, and even South Africa’s Supreme Court.
Adjacent to the slave lodge is located one of the largest public parks and botanical gardens set in the heart of Cape Town. This is home to a rose garden, a Japanese garden, a fishpond and an aviary.
Many Capetonians take comfort in the spacious garden, filming the cute squirrels scurrying here and there and listening to live music by a uniquely-tattooed man with a guitar.
Originally founded in the 1650s, the garden is also surrounded by popular attractions such as the houses of parliament, the South African Museum, and the South African National Gallery. Inside the garden, there is a statue of one of the most controversial colonial figures — Cecil Rhodes. Though in the Western World his name is associated with scholarship and entrepreneurship, for black people Rhodes represents colonialism, imperialism and plunder.
“When a black person looks at Cecil Rhodes’ statue, she sees a person who denied her basic moral worth, and would have justified enslavement, ruthless autocratic rule, and the sadistic treatment of her and her ancestors,” wrote Omar Khan, director of the Runnymede Trust, a leading British race equalities think tank.
His statue in Cape Town University campus was defaced demanding its removal. It was Rhodes who in 1887 told the House of Assembly in Cape Town that, “the native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise. We must adopt a system of despotism in our relations with the barbarians of South Africa. I prefer land to niggers.”
On the one hand, Rhodes was a brutal racist and imperialist and to take down his statue was merely taken as a symbol of of decolonization but still academic institutions, a scholarship and streets are named after him.
This irreconcilable difference on the collective memory between the oppressors and the oppressed without any real decolonization makes a rainbow nation a figment of the imagination.
It is not only colonial legacy that is still existent; rather, the economy is under the monopoly of the white who represent about 8% of the population.
Many of the disenfranchised, black/colored South Africans live as second-class citizens in an impoverished township.
Middle-class blacks trying to claim ‘white’ spaces are met with disapproving looks and, worse, openly insulted. Cape Town feels like a time machine of a colonial period wherein most of the white establishment is entrenched whereas black people work as gardeners and house cleaners. A documentary entitled “Bitter Grapes” exposes slavery in the vineyard. According to the documentary, many wine farmers are still paying with an apartheid-era payment system known as the dop system: where workers are paid with jugs of sweet white wine instead of money. This was outlawed in 1961. Despite all this, there are places that seemed to depict a “sense of integration” — places such as Victoria and Alfred waterfront.
A busy commercial harbor, Victoria and Alfred waterfronts, set against a backdrop of magnificent sea and mountain views, craft markets, theater, movies and outdoor entertainment, create a soothing feeling.
Racial tensions seem to vanish in the buzzing nightlife along Long Street. Parts of Long Street never sleep with retro lighting, live music spots, visible artsy scene, and various music genres give a different notion of Cape Town.
Crowded with a parking space, drunken people laughing on the street, highly queer people’s presence, Afro-punk fashionista, seem to tell the story of a highly divided society.
It is not only Long Street which is sleepless, but townships like Khayelitsha (new home) also have their own block parties.
In the midst of informal shacks, many black and colored people find comfort in this neighborhood parties. At braai (Afrikaans for barbecue), pork, sausage and chicken are roasted in front of patrons.
Many park their cars on the street playing loud hip-hop, house, R and B and kwaito music on a loud stereo. This joint is exclusively for black and colored people. This neighborhood is also a home for an anarchist collective named Soundz of The South. A controversial grass-roots movement, it uses hip-hop, community organizing and poetry to try to raise awareness about the Marikana massacre (when striking mineworkers at Marikana were killed in 2012 by South African police); farmworkers revolt; Mandela betrayal; and a true African revolution. They also work with various trade unions and help organize demonstrations.
Khayelitsha is not the only black space. Rather, football matches of rival teams such as Kaizer Chiefs vs. Orlando Pirates seem to be an exclusive black space.
Last Saturday there was a game between Kaizer Chiefs vs. Cape Town city, which showed fanatic football fans. Amplified by vuvuzelas, it was a place for various performances such as rival teams threatening each other to slit their throats, praying for divine intervention and also a homemade coffin to symbolize that their team is about to “pulverize” the opposition. They also sing in a harmonious way expressing their freedom fully. The ‘verbal’ violence aside, it is a reminder of a Bob Marley’s quote “football is freedom, a whole universe.”