What it means to be coloured during election time

“I don’t like to talk about politics. Nothing I do will change this country anyway”.

My mother doesn’t vote. She is of the view that “the blacks” have taken over the country and will hold the power forever. She hates the ANC. She hates Jacob Zuma. She does not engage with politics at all. When she did vote, she, like many other coloured people I know, voted for the DA. Because white is right, black people are incompetent etc. But now, having ruled in the Western Cape since 2009, not even the DA holds my mother’s confidence anymore.

This is the political context in which I have grown up. I have sat around dinner tables with uncles and aunties complaining about how the ANC is corrupt and how the coloured people don’t count. “First we weren’t white enough, now we’re not black enough”. Still living on the Cape Flats, I am often confronted with this standpoint that coloured people are a marginalised, forgotten group. As a political science graduate, I have gotten into many heated debates about the logical fallacy of this argument. We are also black, I say. BEE benefits us too. If you’re not happy with the political climate, do something to change it, I rant.

But let’s rewind the clock to 2010 when Jimmy Manyi, then director-general of the Department of Labour, stated that there were too many coloured people in the Western Cape. “They should spread in the rest of the country… so they must stop this over-concentration situation because they are in over-supply where they are so you must look into the country and see where you can meet the supply.” He said that coloured people had to go where there was a demand for coloured workers. Now, this statement is questionable for two reasons: 1) what exactly does he mean by coloured worker and what job would require a coloured worker, specifically? and 2) Am I supposed to assume it is a coincidence that the Western Cape is also the only province in which the ANC has not managed to win a majority vote in recent years?

When the ANC and the opposition party talk about “seizing the coloured vote”, the immediate image that comes to mind is of a dog in between two people waving treats, being forced to choose which one it likes best.

And then Helen Zille tries to appease us by organising a march against gangsterism and drugs in the Cape Flats (let’s just quickly ignore the fact that this one and only “intervention” took place just before the 2014 national and provincial elections. Instead, let us ask ourselves: why does Helen think it is appropriate for the Premier of the province to march as a solution to a systemic problem like gangsterism? All this while coloured people in BoKaap, Woodstock and Salt River are being subjected to gentrification at an alarming rate, and while Blikkiesdorp, the Symphony Way Temporary Reallocation Area, is a year away from celebrating its 10th anniversary.

But we must also ask ourselves the question, Why is it that the ANC has not managed to win a majority vote in the Western Cape since 1999?

Language is a very powerful thing. The racial narrative in South Africa is, and has always been, very simply “black and white”. We have failed to be nuanced in our discussions, in our debates, in our dialogues, and in our thinking, and in doing so, have excluded an entire group of people from engaging in the socio-political conversations of present day South Africa. We talk about cultural heritage, Black Consciousness, Black Pride, and Black Lives Matter, and in doing so alienate previously oppressed communities who have not had a culturally black experience of this country and the world. I say we because I am guilty of it too. By referring to myself as politically black and culturally coloured, I perpetuate the exclusion of the coloured voice in South African politics.

Last year, Gwede Mantashe claimed that coloured people must accept that they are also black. He said coloured people must not be ashamed to call themselves black. While this might be true in every other part of the world, this is not the case in South Africa. The apartheid structures of racial segregation meant that coloured South Africans people were left with a vastly different cultural heritage and historical narrative to black South Africans. And so the barriers to socio-economic inclusion are also different, and require a different response. To say that coloured people must fit themselves into an identity instead of creating one for ourselves is, in fact, racist. In saying this you dismiss an entire people’s reality, history, language and culture. Manenberg is not Khayelitsha. Eldorado Park is not Soweto.

It was important to unite all non-white South Africans under one black banner during the liberation movement with a revolutionary message sprawled across the UDF posters, “UDF Unites, Apartheid Divides”. However, post-Apartheid politics has ignored self-actualising tensions that colouredness presents for far too long, which has led to the growing disillusionment of coloured people in this country. Zille’s little march is only an example of how little energy these politicians are willing to expel in improving the lives of the people of the Cape Flats.

My mother doesn’t vote. She does not engage with politics at all. And while I do not agree with her decision, I can’t say I blame her.

I leave you with the words of the late, great, coloured philosopher and poet, Adam Small:

Die Here het gaskommel 

en die dice het verkeerd geval vi’ ons

daai’s maar al

(The Lord rolled,

And the dice fell badly for us,

That’s all)

Die Here het Gaskommel, 1975

***The views of this  blog do not necessarily represent the views of Democracy Works Foundation.

In her professional and personal life, Rushka is interested in socio-economic inequality and inclusivity, and how environmental sustainability can contribute to solving these issues. She is a development practitioner, working at the intersection of environmental and socio-economic issues to develop sustainable solutions to complex problems.

Her current work involves contributing to policy, strategy and projects for sustainable and inclusive economic development in the Western Cape. Rushka earned a social science degree, and after beginning her working life in the marketing world, has crafted a career in public sector environmental sustainability. She works in the Green Economy within the Western Cape Government Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning.

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