Ryland Fisher
Ryland Fisher

We remain obsessed with racism

I have to admit that I did not read the report on which the Cape Times based its “Cape Town is a racist city — study” banner headline last Thursday (October 22 2009). I did try to get a copy of the report, commissioned by the Employment Equity Programme and conducted by Sabie Surtee and Martin Hall, but was not successful.

What is clear to me, however, is that the headline and the story do not quite match up. Obviously, headlines have certain constraints and one is not able to be as subtle or as nuanced in a headline as in a story.

So what are the salient points of the story?

  • Cape Town is seen as hostile to black people, while white people still benefit from being appointed to top posts in the city.
  • African people are under-represented in management positions “in comparison to their overall contribution to the South African workforce”.
  • The mainly African people interviewed for this survey thought that coloured people were their competitors for positions and that there was “marked antagonism towards coloured people” among the people interviewed.
  • According to the Cape Times report, in the five retail companies surveyed, 65 percent of top and senior management appointments or promotions went to whites in 2008, but only 10 percent went to black people. At junior management level, the paper reported, 27 percent of the opportunities went to whites and 36 percent to blacks.

    I did not read anywhere in the story that the authors of the report called Cape Town racist, but I suppose that is what the sub-editor who wrote the headline read.

    After reading this article, I am again convinced that we remain a country pre-occupied with race. It seems that every time we cannot find a reason for anything, we blame it on race.

    It is clear that the problems in the Western Cape have its roots in apartheid, when the province was declared a coloured labour preference area and Africans had to have permits to work and live there.

    Thankfully, we no longer have a situation like that and we can all live and work wherever we want to in South Africa. However, I found myself thinking after reading this report: why is it such a crime for the Western Cape demographic to be different to the national demographic? And why must businesses be compelled to meet the national demographic targets in the Western Cape?

    Surely, it makes sense to have different targets for the Western Cape? This pre-occupation with reaching national demographic targets is probably part of the reason why coloureds in the Western Cape, who make up the majority of the population, feel that they have no future in South Africa and continuously appear to be turning their backs on the ruling ANC in support of opposition parties.

    I also realise why the researchers did this particular report but surely, if you speak mainly to African people, you are going to get a particular perspective only. Why did they not speak to quite a few coloured and white people also? By excluding them from the research, it seems to send the message that they are part of the problem and could not necessarily contribute to the solution.

    Newspapers, and the journalists who work there, have an important duty to realise the seriousness of their influence on society. By using inflammatory headlines like “Cape Town is a racist city”, they are effectively saying that people of Cape Town are racist and that does not serve anyone’s purpose, except maybe selling more newspapers, but even that is debatable.

    A headline like that probably only has the effect of making sure that people who feel uncomfortable with reading or discussing the issue of race, will not buy the paper.

    I am a strong proponent of a continuous discussion on the effects of race and racism on our society today, but it depends on how we conduct that conversation. It definitely does not help to accuse an entire city of being racist. That is the quickest way to end the conversation.

    • http://hardtalk/ Siphiwo Siphiwo

      You don’t have to be philosophical about this, all you’ve got to do is to simple read Cape Town & Western Cape situation at the political level:

      Zille’s all pale man cabinet. End of Story

    • Raffa

      Hi Ryland

      Having contacted some journalists personally, with regards to their sensationalist headlines/titles, I have been told numerous times that the sub-editors attach the headlines to articles and that journalists are as surprised as we are when they see the final article title.

    • F M

      The ANC sees racial targets as solely giving blacks positions. Regardless of whether they make up 30%, 20%, even 5% of the demographics in an area.

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    • Malusi

      I think you missed the point. To say that ‘Cape Town is racist’ is not an accusation or an attempt to start a ‘conversation’ or ‘discussion.’ Its a statement of fact. Its not to say that Capetonians are evil or backwards. Its a statement of fact.

      I have lived in Cape Town for just over 7 years, after being born in another part of the country as a black-African South African. I can genuinely say, from experience, that Capetonians are more race obsessed than any other people in the country. Even the most well-intentioned and genuinely ‘good’ people remain racist. Not because they are bad people or stupid or evil. Its just because of the way they were taught to look at black people throughout their lives. Even when they ‘try’ to not be racists, it still is nothing more than an attempt to make you as an ‘outsider’ feel as if you are normal. Like taking pity on an lame or injured animal. As from myself I neither take offence nor judge this behavior. It’s just the way they are.

      To take the statement that ‘Cape Town is a racist city’ as an offence or an indictement on Cape Town or Capetonians is to miss the point. Its just a fact, and to tray and sanitize the truth is worse than lying.

    • Kit

      I’m starting to think that one could equate coloured with liberal in terms of a general mindset here now. Back the days, liberals were detested by the right-wing establishment and are now detested by the (ahem) ‘authentic’ left-wing for being the face of the petty bourgeoisie or some such. Coloured people appear to have got this pretty raw deal from the old Nats and now get the same raw deal from the new ones.

      Cape Town is racist, just like the rest of this country. We’ve all got chips on our shoulders. But this obsession with national demographics is filtering through everything until little towns where pretty much the entire population of 400 is coloured will have to import black guys to rule (no women though please, it might offend the alliance partners, with nary a woman in sight). Note how the constitutional definition of disadvantaged (i.e. not white male) is no longer applicable.

      Interestingly, I went to flip through my postgrad registration the other day (going nowhere of course) and they’ve changed the categories. Did you know that Chinese people are white too now (again)? Interesting, I thought, very interesting.

    • John

      @ Malusi: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, hey.

    • Peter L

      @ Malusi
      Your statement is not a statement of fact – it is a statement of your opinion and perception.

      Whether or not your opinion is based on fact or not would depend on the evidence.

      I do agree with you that our perceptions are influenced by our experiences – so if the only black people that you interacted with were maids and gardeners, that would undoubedly skew your perception of that group.

      Facts are determined on the basis of scientific evidence and research that has been peer reveiwed.

    • Delany

      I don’t think the perception of racism will go away until South Africans have another way to understand the sense of discrimination they encounter every day. Discrimination is a perfectly valid and necessary faculty. It’s what we use to decide whether a pear is ready to eat, it helps you smell out a lie, it’s what we use to vote.
      Racism however is an extreme. It’s based on habit and ignorance, and in some cases needs active redress.

      Something outsiders should know about Cape Town – we’re heckava clicky. I’ve lived here all my life and still feel left out. Also, we’re a *TOP* destination, locally and internationally.
      Higher value, more conceited. Go to the UK and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

    • Rory Short

      Racism is the misapplication, or misuse, of the output of the perfectly normal and necessary human capability of being able to distinguish between different things.

      I am a white English speaking South African male and that is an indisputable fact which even a blind person who is familiar with SA accents would probably be able to recognise.

      Use of that simple fact as the grounds for excluding me from employment for example is racist because my race has absolutely nothing to do with MY capacity to perform a particular job.

      People are people and should be accorded the same treatment no matter what their particular race. Objectively race should have nothing to do with the treatment that any person receives from others.

      Racism needs to be exorcised from our society but unfortunately government has seen fit to perpetuate racism in various pieces of legislation that it has introduced. Removing racism from society will be an impossible task whilst this legislation remains on the statute book.

    • Sello

      “It seems that every time we cannot find a reason for anything, we blame it on race.” I used to agree with you on this, but now I think it’s far more complicated than that. We are now obsessed with telling people who bring up that notorious race card to shut it by making them feel small for even mentioning race, never mind that they may have a legitimate point. The truth is some if not most things in SA ARE about race, even the silent racism types that only reveal themselves latently. I keep saying 15 years is nothing and this country is not about to abandon its thinking on race anytime soon. We need to accept that – this is the prevailing reaction to the harshness of apartheid.

      You also say that by excluding whites and coloureds from the research, “it seems to send the message that they are part of the problem and could not necessarily contribute to the solution.”
      I think that’s quite a stretch – or maybe YOU personally feel this way and are in a way speaking for everyone else(?)

      As for your complaint on media sensationalism – that’s nothing new! Maybe we do need a bit of sensationalism to hit us hard with the perceptions that exist out there – especially when it’s on something like race, which is still a hot topic in SA and will probably continue to remain one for a long time to come…no surprises there!

    • Lilian

      Get over it. Cape Town is what it is and no amount of moaning is going to change things. If you come to Cape Town with attitude you will get it back. We don’t give a damn who comes or goes but don’t come here and insult us. Because we don’t vote ANC does not make us racist. We are the only province where people are electorially literate. That is why people flock here. They know they will get the best service of all the Provinces. This was a pathetic story and dicy survey. How could it even be called a survey as only people of one race group was interviewed about race. The again what can you expect from the press. Sensationalist!!!

    • Blip

      Zille may have an all-man cabinet, but she’s their boss and she’s not a man. So it’s perfectly OK. She picks the best person for the job. That’s OK too.

    • Dave Harris

      Hey Ryland, maybe you should tone down the rhetoric – next thing you be telling us is that is that we also remain obsessed with crime!!!

      Centuries of white supremacy cannot be erased overnight. Only an apartheid denialist would deny the obvious. Half a century after the Civil Rights Act AND electing a black president, the US is still coming to terms with racism. Would you say Americans obsessed with race as well?

      What you called being “obsessed with race” is our human nature to acknowledge and question our prejudices. Prejudices that have stemmed from apartheid’s institutionalized racism, justified in the name of religion and taught for generations in SA schools. We will continue to fight to eradicate racism for a LONG time to come to undo the damage wrought by centuries of white supremacy.

    • Andrew

      It’s sad that south african’s are still so obsessed with race. The rest of the world is more concerned with the pressing problems of dwindling resources, climate change and terrorism, while we are being left behind in our little backwater country to fight over issues the rest of the world dealt with decades ago.

    • Kitty Kat

      Discussion about racism in Ct should be coupled with action. You cannot talk a job done. CT is a racist city. If you care to do some independent studies on the employment trends in Ct yr facts will not disprove this findings. In fact, it is so-called coloreds in CT who do nothing to fight the scourge of racism in CTown. They have allowed and defended this colony to maintain its racism. To suggest, that CT should be assessed differently moves the argument further and further into a seperatist homeland ideal. South Africa belongs to all who live in it and it should be any individual’s right to be given the same opportunities.Its in line with redressing the past. But the reality in the workplace is unconstitutional. No coloured or white person raises the alarm or defends const tenets. And yet, had they still been under apartheid system they would have blown the whistle a long time ago. The seperation of groups did not start with apartheid it started before that. History shows coloreds(slaves) always enjoying the master favour and others(bushment-strandlopers) treated like vermin and shot like dogs. Its there in apartheid history books. It is time that we had an honest introspection and to stop papering over the cracks to please ourselves. We must be the first to admit that we have not done enough and we should provide the way forward to show how it could be done.

    • Thomas

      Blip, you are absolutely right.

    • MLH

      You only have to hear what Trevor Manuel said at the UFS to know that all of us a race-obsessed. He fears that turning BBEEE into a tick-box exercise creates cynicism. Well, what do you know? He’s actually got there! He lost considerable credibility for me, when he was so slow admitting to the recession…but I suspect that the very mention of state money turns us all into cynics. Whether we are talking jobs, PAYE, VAT, petrol levy, rates, government (three tiers’) spend or our very favourite: fraud and corruption. We are all cynical about it and mostly blame a lack of delivery in any form, on racial circumstances.
      I’d like to add, though, that my sister and I both grew up in the same home. She lives in CT, I in Durban. She is far more politically correct and polite than I am; I reserve the right to like or dislike anyone, no matter their colour!
      Perhaps she’s just more patient, while I suffer no fool gladly.

    • Beast

      Shame, poor Cape Town. The place can simply not catch a break. The place is racist, can’t win a major trophy in any sport, have to put up with corrupt politicians for most of the year, bessed with Luke Watson! Now I know why my great-grandad left the colony and went walk-about “kaalvoet oor die Drakensberg”. Move to JHB. We are not racist, we hate everyone equally.

    • Unathi

      Anyone who laments and proclaims an obsession with race, within a South African context, is either obfuscatory or selectively ignorant.

      Pick a side.

      This so-called survey attempts to make tangible the frustrating perception of race in Cape Town. In so doing and in acknowledging the presence thereof we can then begin to move forward. I do not think the author, Fisher, fully understands the sordidly brilliant architecture of apartheid and its legacy. I doubt many do and will, anytime soon. Cities like Cape Town are excellent reflections of apartheid attempts. Many fail to understand that racism in Cape Town is not white on black but rather a well-constructed cog of coloured on black coupled with inexplicable inferiority complexes on the part of blacks therein. Cape coloureds live in a perpetual state of denialism of how their victimisation left them with white-aspiration-fueled victimiser mentalities.

      The survey’s methodologies might have been tragically flawed but the intention of the study should not be undermined least by semi-beneficiaries (via a coloured labour preference area) of Cape Town. No my friend, this is not an obsession with race, it’s a reality on race. You cannot fix things with denialism or alternate routes. Much like if your stove is broken, you won’t opt to fix the fridge instead, you fix the stove. Or would you ignore the stove, due to a perceived self-obessession on the stove, and fix the fridge anyway?

    • Noko

      I must firstly agree with Dave Harris and Kitty kat. In actual fact we are not obsessed enough with race, because if we were we would not wait for a day to deal with the issue. Our history and our present is based on race. Is it a not race that made the white population richer and have better education and resources. All those things were acquired by their skin colour and nothing else.

      There is a falacy in SA that needs to be adressed, those that have benefitted from race based legislation all of a sudden wants all legislation that seeks to redress the past to be scrapped. AA and EE have not be implemented is SA because even the ANC is afraid to bite the hand that feeds them. Who bank rolled the election campaings of the ANC surely not black people because in 1994 they had no resources at all and still mainly don’t. How did other parties like the PAC which seems to have radical ideas suffer because the west and white people cannot allow such redress to happen moreover fast cause no one throws away prillege, people are willing to dy to preserve their privillege. It is very ufortunate that we are not adressing the issue now and are sugar coating them instead.

    • Antony

      Am I a racist ?
      If racialism is to be regarded as a behavioural or social disease, then condemning its symptoms and effects is no way for curing it. One does not get rid of a condition by calling it a bad name. No progress was made in the treatment of leprosy while the practice of society was to cry “Unclean ! Unclean !”. Such an approach to any disease is both primitive and unenlightened. Similarly, standing on our little hills of self-righteousness and wringing our hands and moral bells over the evils of others and trying to define racialism does not provide any answers on what can be done about it – and picking at the ‘sores’ can merely make a condition worse. To label anyone a ‘racist’ today is to risk a re-enactment of the era when the church labeled people as ‘heretics’, and when in the United States anyone labeled a ‘communist’ was denied any future in society.

      But to many scientists the problem of ‘racism’ is neither political, ideological nor structural, but neurophysical. For the limbic system that governs our emotions and group relationships means these can only be handled on a person to person basis.The task before each person therefore is to build up a trusting foundation of Goodwill with just one other person of another culture, Then for society in general, instead of picking at the sores of ‘racism’, in starting the next real miracle of our nation’s social, economic and spiritual aspirations .

    • victor

      Racisim in South Africa is not an obsession, it is a fact. Whites, can deny this all the want its a fact, Blacks experience it everyday. I have good friends who happen to be white and they used to deny this and i made it a point to point out the racist tendecies, They were not even aware, White people in South Africa are so used to racisim its second nature. I agree with Malusi, and it is expected that white people will deny this FACT and i refuse to tolerate it.

    • Sibusiso

      You might find this interesting, for ever 7 coloureds in Cape Town, there are 6 Africans and half a white. This is not from this study but its recent. So organisations in Cape Town can’t use the 55%, 19% and 25% coloured, whites and africans respectively of the 2001 census for their EE targets.

      Current statistics show africans as being unde represented even accorrding to the provincial and regional demographics.

    • Letstasti

      I have witnessed the same in the black townships
      where children as young as 2 years of age have been
      taught by their parents to be racists.
      It is still happening in the year 2009.

    • Mark Robertson

      My main concern with the report is a purely scientific one – as an academic piece of sociology research, it needs to be logically sound. The descriptive research was interesting – that black South Africans are under-represented in certain areas, based on crude population ratios, and the interviews indicated subjective opinions that Cape Town is a racist city. However this by itself is no proof of causality, or of racist behaviour. Observing a state is empirical, or descriptive research. Showing proof of causality, or cause and effect, requires different, thorough statistical research. This is research methods 101 – I am sure Prof Hall is well aware of this. Let’s take an example less controversial than race – ‘there are more gay male hairdressers than there are gays in the population as a whole. Does this mean that the hairdressing profession is viciously biased against straight people? Quite possibly not. There are a host of other reasons for observations, or ‘outcomes’. Did the Cape Town research normalise the results for factors other than race? Education, IQ, social class, parental investment during formative years, language, origin (SA or foreign) etc? Did it provide a truly scientific description of these? These are all descriptive factors that may have a predictive effect on individual behaviours.Similar studies in the USA at least have this intellectual rigour. Did it truly prove that active discrimination is the only reason for certain outcomes? It was an interesting report, but reporting is not science.

    • Sakes

      Great stuff Ryland. You are continuing a debate that which not many wish to explore other than attacking the opinion of another. I am a racist. Why? Because everytime I look around me I see how a demographic majority people are left out of processes and development. Begging for meager services as if they are to be blamed for Apartheid. I see how Black Africans discriminate against Black Coloureds. I remember the sentiments of the former leadership of the Western Cape ANC saying we dont need the Coloured vote as they are being replaced by an influx from the Eastern Cape.Ask people on the train what they endure everyday. We are so obsessed with harmony between Whites and Africans, we fail to see the divisions and racism within the Black community. Are there national plans to bridge this divide, no. We just have to bite the bullet and try to survive. Come down from your ivory towers and visit the Coloured working class areas. Hear and experience the daily humiliation, rejection and dashed hopes experienced by them in their daily lives at work, education, and seeking service delivery. Wards divided between Africans and Coloureds, African councillor, never see their councillor or meet them. I was one of those activists who insisted on African leadership at all cost in the eighties, failing to build proper Coloured leadership. By the way I am a loyal ANC member, where Malema, Ozinsky and Skwatcha, does not factor.

    • Johan Meyer

      @ Harris
      A question to you: What do you know of Cape Town?
      To wit: What do you know of Sybrand Park, Oostersee, Ruyterwacht, Parow West or Goodwood West?
      Or seeing as you ‘support the struggle’ (I doubt that you have any knowledge on that front), what do you know about Bokmakierie, Crawford (Athlone), or for that matter, Mitchell’s plain? Retreat? Grassy park? How about Nyanga, Crossroads, or New crossroads? How many people have you known that have lived in each of these areas? I have a strong impression that you really know very little about Cape Town. Ever hear of 9-SAI? How’s ’bout Wingfield? Wingfield Tech? What exactly do you know about ‘racial relations’?

      The funny thing to me about you ‘liberals’ to me is that I had very ‘racist’ friends (who were very fond of saying k****r, H**..**t, etc) growing up (white, Afrikaans), yet they had many black, coloured and Indian friends, and would even stay over at said friends’ shacks over a weekend. If anything, it is you liberal middle class liberals that have a race relations problem.

    • Kazi

      The article was good and it was great that it focused on one race group as it was not going to be intersected by issues of social class, had it not.Let the researchers be, at least they had the courage to investigate the matter. racism in its explicit and sublime form is rife in Cape Town.The researcher also took care of the assumption that affirmative action is taking away jobs from white people. It is true what one person commented; that the denailism is our detriment and those who have an identity crisis are the fungus in the matter. Know yourself, know your roots and we will all discover we are creole, but that doesn’t exempt us from the work we have to do in the healing of the symbolic violence of the leagcy of apartheid and centuries of colonialism. How can we as Black people be expected to have this amnesia 15 years down the line, all those who claim we pull the race I ask: How do you get over centuries of oppression in 15 years??? Where is the formula? How does one do it???

    • MuAfrika

      ‘KwaMashu is the new Murder Capital’ – We got over that let Cape Town get over that too!
      KwaMashu Lives!

    • http://deleted Antony

      The majority of statements about ‘racism’ are about ‘symptoms’ not causes -which are neurological Wanting to be with one’s own kind is not ‘racism’ but a most natural limbic imperative for comfort and strength in one’s identity and group. Undoubtedly the concept of ‘apartheid’ was a crime of social engineering in legislating to force people to separate. But equally inappropriate is an intention to force people to integrate – thereby making the common denominator of forcing people to act against their own natural inclinations. Neurological research has shown that the seeming incompatibility of our physical, social and intellectual images results in our failure to reconcile our competing and dysfunctional neurological imperatives. Dr Aristide Esser refers to this as ‘Social Pollution’ whereby we pollute our lives, socially, economically and culturally, that can ultimately erupt as ‘racism’. Esser quotes the Hippie David Smith telling some street fighters, “If we can only get past the idea that we have to be better than the next cat, and can concentrate on being better today than we were yesterday, then the world will be a better place”

      Roly Kingwill a Karoo pioneering conservation-humanist held that protesting the evils of others – indulging in a destructive war or words which he called ‘blame-throwing’, which does nothing but confirm our prejudices. He quote Thoreau [1817-1862] as saying : “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil – for every one who is striking at the root.”

    • Dave Harris

      @Mark Robertson
      “Showing proof of causality, or cause and effect, requires different, thorough statistical research.”
      Talk is cheap. Please enlighten us as to how you propose to achieve this?

      “but reporting is not science”
      At least its a good faith attempt at trying to understand why blacks are marginalized in the Cape. ANY scientific report has an element of subjectivity, but the hard figures CANNOT be disputed and show quite clearly that blacks are under represented.

      @Johan Meyer
      I don’t know what the point of your comments are but, having lived and worked in CT for a while and having many CLOSE connections with the local communities, I probably know more about CT that you can dream of.

      DA has hijacked one of our most beautiful cities, that was more cosmopolitan even under apartheid!!! Under madam Zille’s leadership, CT has been systematically gentrified and is now an enclave for the rich. The soul of CT has been lost. Most black faces have disappeared from the streets? The sounds, smells and sights of the locals have been edged out to give way to B&Bs, malls and upmarket stores catering for tourists and the privileged rich. Yes, in the past there was a good reason why Capetownians had a reputation for being the most hospitable in SA. Now CT has earned the dubious honor of being the most racist city in SA.

    • sid

      Sure SA is obsessed with race but I think that the problem is that it has been allowed to cloud judgement and actions. Racists like Dave Harris (and probably Julius Malema) would have every decision made in SA be based on race rather than what is good for SA.

      Thus competent people, good ideas, valid criticism etc can be thrown aside based on race. Easy meat for the corrupt and incompetent.

      While it is sadly unlikely, we should remain obsessed with race but more like one is possibly obsessed with a favourite football team, sports person or pop star. That is, obsessed but not clouding real issues.

    • Johan Meyer

      @Dave Harris
      Which communities? Growing up in Cape Town (metropolitan area, early to late 90s), there was plenty of nastiness, racism etc, and aside from a few main streets (e.g. main street aka M4 and a few parallel streets, e.g. Palmyra, some parts of the downtown area, and then only homeless people) the only places to find many coloureds and blacks were in their respective neighbourhoods. And I actually would go to such neighbourhoods, on bicycle, to spread information on the ANC’s neoliberal program GEAR – funny I never saw white faces (aside from one or two viciously poor whites, and whites hunting for domestics) in these areas – Elsies, Bishop Lavis, Phillippi, etc. Again, which communities, and when? How many individuals in these communities?

    • Raffa

      The “DA has hijacked our city” ??

      Are you serious? The city has completed new rail links to Khayelitsha, spent R1.6 billion in the area alone. Is investing in the IRT system, and has come out tops in service delivery. All efforts to create a working, delivery focused and connected city. So much for a rich enclave.

      When will people realized that so called blacks are NOT the majority in Cape Town, not by a long shot. Seeing less of a particular race does not imply discrimination.

      Its typical of those who spend their time disliking the DA without realizing that they have done significantly more than the ANC in a short period of time. Its difficult to comprehend that under the DA, Cape Town is significantly more pro-poor.

    • Larsen Bjorn

      As if that should mean anything all by itself. If the race of the agent always outweighs the quality of its output, pray, how will your plight ever improve ?