Colour-Coded Divisions Remain

Cape Times (South Africa), February 13, 2007 | Go to article overview

Colour-Coded Divisions Remain


BYLINE: Yazir Henri

Cape Town is a city that remains at war. It is a war that exists through the silences and in the cracks that allow complete histories and realities to slip through.

At the same time this city is called the success of Europe in Africa.

It is a city that lives the violence and genocide that has been its history through apartheid back to Dutch and British settlement over 400 years ago.

Cape Town is a city that continues to be shredded by the complexities of division and violence.

The violence of the city, of its extremes of wealth and poverty and the irreconcilable realities that exist inside of these extremes, mark everyone each day in ways that are not always clear, conscious or visible. It feels like a city that is ready to burst with the violent force of the irrepressible realness of its history.

Mostly everything remains colour-coded according to previous apartheid "race" categories. This is visible in every sphere of society, from who works in restaurant kitchens and who owns them; who cleans the roads and sidewalks and who is a shop owner; whose children are cared for by nannies and whose children have to fend for themselves.

The socioeconomic and spatial boundaries of Cape Town remain distinct, obliterating even the memory of how these spaces were manipulated into existence through apartheid laws of forced removals and group areas.

In Cape Town people who were removed from their homes and economic livelihoods - from places such as Mowbray, District Six, De Waterkant, Green Point, Simon's Town, Wynberg, Claremont, Kensington, and so on - live in ghettoes, from Bokmakierie to Khayelitsha, marked mainly for their low life expectancy and endemic crime, yet they still have to pass the areas they previously inhabited on their way |to and from work in the city each day.

For the majority, there is almost no dream of return or of compensation. The highly differentiated socio-geographical spaces of the city continue to dictate not only where one lives and to whom one speaks, but the language and register that is |spoken.

The boundaries of urban geography that historically were engineered to define and bolster racial categorisation persist today.

I do not have the privilege of knowing the complex roots of my ancestry that give meaning to who I am. My ancestry is located at the |fictional interface that is called "hybridity". This is a biological concept imbued with the falsehoods of racial purity, on the one hand, especially of "white" identity as it has sought to construct a "black" Other, and, on the other hand, of the "non-white" mixtures that are only explained as the progeny of "white/black" encounters, co-habitation, and miscegenation.

"Hybridity" masks histories and shades of "brownness" - coalesced into a homogeneous racial construct called "coloured" - that attest to earlier histories of human theft, slavery, political exile, forced labour and transcontinental economies of colonial dispossession.

This fiction of the "bastard" colours my being and life in Cape Town; it denies me a knowable and transmissible history outside the legacy of apartheid categories of "race" purity. It located me on the Cape Flats and defined my life as a second-class human being.

As a teen in the mid-1980s the act of facing apartheid Casspirs with stones gave me the opportunity for the first time in my life to transgress this constant attack on my being.

Later my experiences as a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe (the armed wing of the ANC) allowed me not only to reclaim my humanity but also to hope for greater human dignity.

These histories of war and resistance are engraved in my skin and are programmed into deep-seated parts of my memory. …

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