Social Cohesion Projects Are Needed in This Polarised City

Article excerpt

BYLINE: Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana

I have lived and worked in the four largest South African cities. Cape Town, without a doubt, has been the most difficult to acclimatise to.

I moved to Cape Town in 2001 and, six years later, I am still not feeling quite at home in this city even though I have grown to love its physical beauty and its people.

The one dominant fact for me when I relocated to Cape Town was the surprising realisation that, even though we were well into the new democracy, my skin colour and culture were still the most important arbiters in determining what areas or communities I could claim as mine, or be at home in, in this city.

As a non-Capetonian female African senior manager in a polarised environment, I didn't seem to fit nicely into a pre-conceived category.

This is the plight of many black professionals who relocate to Cape Town. The so-called black middle class struggles to define a home for itself in this city.

Unlike most marginalised Capetonians, members of the middle class have other options available. As they have chosen to relocate to this city, so too can they choose to leave. Most do, opting to go to Johannesburg, Pretoria or Durban.

A friend, who has just resigned from a senior position and decided to relocate to Pretoria, summed up her experience: "You spend your time and energy struggling to be valid and not just free to be, because the environment is blind to your professional existence, but pathological about the sight and presence of you in their midst".

This is a tragedy as polarisation in Cape Town is not only along racial lines, but is also defined along class lines. Creation of a mixed middle class of all races is critical.

Cape Town is a complex city.

A city which can never be defined through a single lens. It is a city that is clearly caught in a perpetual struggle to find an identity embracing its diverse population.

Cape Town is a city characterised by geographic and cultural polarisation, racism and xenophobia.

It is critical to move beyond stereotyping Cape Town in broad categories and seek to unearth the nuances that lie beneath its racism, polarisation and xenophobia.

Is Cape Town an African city?

This question has been asked many times in this debate. I think we should rather ask: as a city on the African continent located in South Africa, what kind of African city is Cape Town striving to become?

Does it seek to offer all its residents a sense of ownership and belonging, recognising all aspects of its history; centuries of colonialism, slavery, apartheid dispossession and the triumph of the new democracy?

Cape Town, like most South African cities, has to confront the past, constructively and honestly.

Capetonians must find tools that will help surface the "ghost voices". These are those deep-seated feelings of hurt, alienation and dispossession that are usually very difficult to express, yet are central in determining how we act and relate to others.

Capetonians must find constructive ways of talking openly and debating the shattering impact of 300 years of colonialism and slavery; the impact of the savage apartheid machinery, including the distortion of identity which is the legacy of the coloured labour preference and the influx control policies.

We need to examine the impact of this past on the relationship specifically between African and coloured communities. It is undeniable the Langa community is as unconnected to Llandudno as to Bonteheuwel, its neighbour. Unbridled hostility exists within and between the two groups.

The lack of confidence or the extreme reluctance exhibited by coloured and African Capetonians in boldly claiming the city as their own is deeply rooted in this past.

The white communities seem to be content with the status quo. It is said that it is human nature not to identify with problems where we are the cause of marginalisation. …