The Forgotten Raceby Andrei Van Wyk / 27.05.2011
“I think it’s very important for coloured people in this country to understand that South Africa belongs to them in totality, not just the Western Cape. So this over-concentration of coloured in the Western Cape is not working for them… They should spread to the rest of the country.” – Jimmy Manyi
As a coloured male, I’ve noticed an increase in offensive views circulating about us lately. In conversations about race, the same old things are always said about coloured people, and they tend to amount to caricature. In my own life, people often look at me like they’re waiting for the strange coloured kid to say something in that “accent”. I’ve tried to figure out what I am doing “wrong” but “being myself” is actually the problem. Being an individual isn’t easy, not only for coloureds, but South Africans generally. We’re still so segmented and compartmentalised. Still so grouped.
The ANC’s Jimmy Manyi feels there are too many coloureds in the Western Cape and we need to move around because it’s “not working” for us. Manyi’s remarks caused an uproar in the coloured community, mostly for officially furthering stereotypes of coloureds. I have experienced discrimination and it really forces you to think about the stupidity of others. I’ve heard that I’m “not like other coloureds” which only makes me wonder what coloureds are supposed to be?
Toothless, violent, dom and drug addicted are just some of the projections out there. Depictions synonymous with the coloured race in the eyes of our fellow South Africans. It’s the first thing people say about me. “You’re not violent or loud like the other coloureds” or “you have all your teeth! Are you really coloured?”
Like habitual caricatures of Indians and Afrikaaners, the debased image of coloureds is maintained in the media. News reports depict us as drug addicted morons, mindlessly ruining our communities. Advertisements bring us on for slinky “mixed race” sex appeal or broad comic relief. This atmosphere of comedy and violence, idiocy and harm, feeds views which have hurt me directly. People have avoided me either because I’ll embarrass them with my “accent” or out of fear that I might just sommer stab them.
Unfortunate people outside the Western Cape may only ever really get to know one or two coloureds in their lifetime – if that. It means their views are largely received ready-made, beyond the media, by tradition and hearsay. Jimmy Manyi’s comments reflect these superficialities.
To Jimmy, we are just commodities rather than people. We need to be “distributed” nationally to be useful to the Nation. We’re good for making up the numbers and doing what we’re told. An excessive, disposable people. That’s how we’ve been seen virtually throughout South African history. A tricky statistical anomaly stubbornly refusing to bugger off or die out.
The outrage of Manyi’s statements died away pretty quickly for non-coloureds. Given how little the ANC or anyone in parliament had to say, it’s clear that coloureds aren’t the most respected race in the country. Tie this to the larger picture of the lack of security and development in coloured communities and you can safely say we are truly a “Forgotten Race”. Our community is largely a joke to the rest of the country. Unfunny comedians like Trevor Noah – who isn’t even coloured – dare to educate others about a people and culture he knows next to nothing about.
These days, sadly, coloureds seem increasingly isolated from the rest of the country. Once too black to escape apartheid, we are now too white to enjoy BEE prosperity. Very few coloureds escape the ghetto into the city or suburbs. Our townships remain as run down, dysfunctional and harsh as they ever were during apartheid. Visiting family down in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, the homes we grew up in are falling apart. As one of the lucky coloureds who left the township, the inequalities that have deepened since “liberation” are all too glaring to me when I return. There is little constructive State intervention. Schools are poorly maintained and the schooling system ineffective. Homes without adequate power and water. Kids, without a sense of purpose, take to the streets. Our long exposure to South Africa has stripped us of it.
What’s so special about us? Everything and nothing. We’re as special as any other race. All of us are judged by demeaning racial stereotypes. It’s sad. When I don’t speak “Kaapse Taal” and dress different, people doubt I’m even coloured. But I’m very proud of who I am. I’m proud that I can go to my grandmother’s house and eat curry, lasagne and salad at the same dinner table. I’m proud that I can moan about the ANC and the DA simultaneously. And I’m proud to be a coloured person.