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The Forgotten Race

The Forgotten Race

by 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.

Jimmy Manyi

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.

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RESPONSES (33)
  1. Sophie says:

    A wonderful piece. Far better than that offered by the “benevolent colonial-anthropologist” version Remy Ngamije penned this week.

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  2. point says:

    The presence of so-called-coloured people in South Africa is an uncomfortable reminder to those on opposing sides of the racial fence from the Apartheid era. It reminds us that race exists as a continuum of subtle permutations and variations, not as a set of absolutes on which we can easily hang stereotypes and prejudices. Whatever may define this group of people as a community unto itself should rather be seen as a cultural phenomenon, not an exclusively racial one. Do we see people of Portuguese, Lebanese or even Jewish heritage as primarily racial groupings or rather communties determined by cultural preference and practice? South Africa desperately needs to move beyond race. It is not impossible.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    Sad story indeed.I was always under the impression that the Khoisan were the forgotten race..but I guess they have passed out of rememberance by now.

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  4. Thato says:

    Wonderful piece of writing. I can’t help feeling that all these careless statements by the likes of Kuli Roberts and Jimmy Manyi stem from a deeper place. I remember growing up being treated supeior because my dad was coloured. Something about being light skinned and being specifically charectarized as ‘coloured” in the townships made you a better person. I remember how a lot of my peers resented me because I had coloured blood in me, but my dad taught us better, he prefferred to speak Sesotho, my mom’s language and taught us to respect everyone. I suppose that’s why race, specifically the now magnified differences between blacks and coloureds (I see none) has always been a non issue to me.

    Is it just me or is this stereotype about coloured people more rampant with black people that hate their blackness and want to feel better than someone at least?

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  5. JM Koet$ee says:

    Soe ‘n bek moet jem kry.

    But…

    I also hate the kind of shit Noah perpetrates, but aren’t you doing the thing you complain about when you say that he ‘isn’t even coloured’?

    I think also people must stop being ‘proud to be coloured/zulu/white’, because it forces you, the proud self-proclaimer to dally with stereotypes yourself. In my house, for instance, we also could have curry and lasagne on the table at the same time, but I’m not ‘coloured’. How does that compute?

    Then, given that the phenotypes for ‘coloured’ runs the gamut of all the phenotypes of humans on earth, how can we possibly even talk about a ‘coloured’ RACE. ‘Coloured’ phenotypes make a mockery of the concept of ‘race’ – i.e. there is no race. And, two people who look similar may have bigger differences in their genes than one of them might have with someone from another ‘race’.

    ‘Coloured’ should be the place where we start to unthink race (and I’m not talking about the stupid encouragement for us all to have babies so that we end up all being ‘coloured’ – although, sex is never a bad idea, no matter with whom). ‘Coloured’ should explode ‘race’, rather than be used to insist on its validity as a ‘race’.

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  6. JM Koet$ee says:

    @Point, your comment is on point.

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  7. ace says:

    This is a brilliant article. I don’t know much about coloured people but I don’t try and act like i do. I’m so happy you pointed it out. I know alot of white people, and even black, who have created this ignorant image of coloured that they blindly follow. Its sad but true

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  8. Chris says:

    Cheer up guy, I think colored people are jas. At least you have a (perceived) common cultural identity, even if it is at times unflattering. It’s a starting point, and something to subvert.
    Try being english and white. We might well be the most luke-warm, beige culture in the whole world. We ain’t got shit except money. We’re like the fucking scandenavians. You ever had fun with someone from Finland?

    Also, I wouldn’t get too worked up about Jimmy Manyi, no one takes the ANC seriously anymore.

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  9. jarryd says:

    Chris, you make it seem like its so hard to be white. Your race also have an identity but fortunately for you it doesn’t hold you back. As a coloured I know what this kid is saying, that the stereotype that people have made of coloured people is slowly destroying the race. So don’t make up fake problems like your race is really suffering. Grow up

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  10. Anonymous says:

    excellent, point

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  11. Chris says:

    Jarryd,

    I don’t think you really understood what I was trying to say.
    That’s probably my fault.

    I’m just suprised to hear that coloured people feel that they are hated on because I’ve always been envious of coloured culture, which seems (from the outside) to have more to it that the culture I was raised in. (braais, schoolboy rugby and Derek Watts)

    And yes, my views about the stigma and stereotyping are perhaps less relevant, as I’m not a coloured dude. In the same way as a straight guy’s views on homophobia may not be as fervent as a gay guy.

    I just always thought the coloured guys at my school were cool.

    Also, you referring to the author as a kid is just reinforcing negative stereotypes.
    As is your aggression.

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  12. Chris says:

    Maybe you are versin

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  13. Lindokushle says:

    @ Thato My grandfather had fair skin, hazel eyes and straight-ish hair even though he was a xhosa man. He had two pass books, one as Charles Patterson and one as Phika Mbangeni. Under Apartheid rule, Charles Patterson had many options (schools he could enroll his kids in, jobs he could get, places he could go) than he did as Phika Mbangeni. So I think the “tensions” that exist between the coloured and black communities have less to do with some innate hatred of their blackness and more to do with how the apartheid system wasn’t seen to be as “harsh” to them as it was to blacks, this and the afrikaans thing could’ve maybe been perceived as “siding with the oppressors”. This is merely speculation though.

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  14. Lindokushle says:

    * many more options

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  15. Jzarjzar says:

    The stench of hypocracy was overwhelming. All the emotion?? U’d swear u were drunk when u wrote this… But then again, that wud be a stereotype now wudnt it?

    Which part of Jimmy’s statement were u unsettled by? The “South Africa belongs to all of us in its entirety” bit or the “Broadening your scope” bit?

    Jimmy’s statement proposed a solution to all ur jibber jabber… But u were too busy sorting the Coloureds from the non-Coloureds to notice.

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  16. JM Koet$ee says:

    Lindokushle, I think you need to get together with some of your older family members and let them tell you stories about those times and about your grandfather. Then you need to write it up into a book. Serious. These are the kinds of stories that need to be told.

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  17. amy says:

    Jzarjzar, coloured people were angry because the stereotype of coloureds being from the cape was used as a starting point for his statement, it just sparks off other stereotypes which would arise. The kid wrote a beautiful article on how being coloured has held him back from certain things. He says that he’s sick of the coloured stereotypes and wants others to embrace other sides of coloured society like the humorous quips he gave at the end of the piece. So open your eyes!

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  18. tim1235 says:

    Anonymous…the khoisan weren’t forgotten, they integrated themselves into south african society. They actually contributed a lot to the rising of the coloured race

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  19. Jannike says:

    Thank you for this article!
    I just happened to stumble upon the following discussion on LitNet, “Wat is rassisme?” which I feel adds on to Andrei van Wyk’s article :

    http://www.litnet.co.za/cgi-bin/giga.cgi?cmd=cause_dir_news_item&cause_id=1270&news_id=103922&cat_id=165

    The article is in Afrikaans – but for anyone who’s interested, it deals with how we define racism — and that more than often the root of “racism” is rather a fear or hatred for the Other (other cultures) than an actual hatred for someone’s skin colour; the author argues that the latter is illogical and absurd.

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  20. Andy says:

    Jzarjzar don’t be so naive… Jimmy’s “solution” also conveniently resolves the fact that the majority of coloured votes in the Western Cape go to the DA – encourage coloureds to migrate and you dilute that constituency. Why doesn’t he ask Zulus to spread out in the same breath. And surely the Vendas are a little too concentrated in Limpopo and the Xhosas are overrunning the Eastern Cape… And as I said before, us Jews have got Sea Point on lockdown! Why is Jimmy so selective and outspoken about coloureds? Because they don’t vote ANC, perhaps?

    In short your argument stinks of an entitled and selective rainbow nationism – that blindly serves the ruling elite. You diss a logical debate, call it hypocrisy and play the old apartheid race card “too busy sorting the coloured from the non-coloureds”. Eish.

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  21. Tristar says:

    Excellently written piece!
    Wanna read more of these kinda articles!!

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  22. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this great piece of writing. I am from Gauteng, but am fortunate enough to have coloured friends – great people with big hearts.

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  23. tonyb says:

    JM Koet$ee. Trevor noah isn’t coloured, he’s biracial. Coloured is a mix of a bunch of different races over generations. Biracial is just two races put together, he didn’t live in a coloured community so he knows nothing.

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  24. JM Koet$ee says:

    TonyB, er, so what two ‘races’ are his parents respectively? Are these ‘pure’ races? Is there a ‘pure’ ‘race’? Etc.

    And don’t get me started on ‘biracial’. Genetically, there’s no such thing as race; so no one can say, by looking in a mirror, what ‘races’ are in their genes.

    “isn’t even coloured’ – what is a ‘coloured’?

    The original writer complains about stereotypes about ‘coloured’ – i.e. whatever fixed idea you have re ‘coloured’, the writer critiques it, rightly. The implication: you cannot fix the identity.

    But then he says: “[He] isn’t even coloured” = He isn’t even a [fixed idea].

    I don’t care what genes make up Noah, but the writer wants his cake and wants to eat it. Dismisses the category, and then moans that someone doesn’t even fit the category.

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  25. Anon says:

    Ask any “coloured” person from the flats if they see themselves as African (ie black) and they will say NO, 99.99% of the time.

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  26. kaylin says:

    I agree with tonyb. As a coloured person I think its insulting for an outsider like trevor noah to judge us when he knows nothing about us. Trevor noah is exactly like any other white or black person who talk about coloured people like he knows what he’s talking about. JM Koet$ee! dont be an idiot, today in south africa, unfortunately, we can’t get rid of race because it still dictates the way we act. Even if there was no ‘black’ or ‘white’, lighter skinned people are still not going to act differently towards darker skinned people. It isn’t something we can change. The writer makes a good point in that being coloured is a very different world and makes a point of defending coloured people, not himself. So don’t pick and choose lines to critique, look at the article as a whole.

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  27. felix says:

    All I can say is look at those KIFS compared to them KAKS….
    TOP NOTCH WRITING I SAY!
    nicely written dude!

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  28. Prawn in the RSA says:

    Trevor Noah admits in his stand up that he is not coloured… not culturally anyway.

    @Chris: The cultural identity of South African white okes is just a strong and distinct as any other identity my boych 🙂 If you care to know the details of the stereotype just ask any coloured guy what jokes they tell behind your back 🙂

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  29. Ahnnie says:

    Racism and stereotyping (positive or negative) only falls away when you get to know a person on a more intimate level. I think it’s just human nature to categorize people and things you don’t know well, like a type of gestalt (of course the media plays a huge role, by telling you myths about the Other) . But then, as the world “shrinks” people are becoming more open minded, so I do believe racism will die out one day.

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  30. JM Koet$ee says:

    Kaylin: “we can’t get rid of race because it still dictates the way we act. Even if there was no ‘black’ or ‘white’, lighter skinned people are still not going to act differently towards darker skinned people. It isn’t something we can change.”

    Well, you can change it by stopping to think that “coloured/white/black” equals this or that, behave in a certain way, etc. You can change it by stopping to believe that YOUR actions are DICTATED by race. You can change it by freeing yourself of thinking about yourself in terms of race in the first place.

    Of course there are larger social forces that you cannot control, but do not imagine these forces are not controlled by humans, who can also change the way they think. RACISM persist partly because we believe that to stop thinking in RACIAL terms is an impossibility.

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  31. […] on Mahala, two contrasting pieces on coloured people in post-Apartheid South Africa: the lauded The Forgotten Race and the pilloried People Being […]

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  32. MayBru says:

    HOs im A Coulered!

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  33. Wife says:

    Thank you for your article. It helps me understand what my husband experiences. He is coloured & I m not. He still gets told that he can’t be colored because he has fair skin, well spoken & not vulgar… We get this in Australia.

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