Sandile Memela
Sandile Memela

The root of the black vs coloured problem

It has not been my intention to enter the so-called debate on the state of black and coloured relations for fear of generating more heat than light.

But we need to put our ghosts to rest on this matter through constructive self-criticism, honest exchange and historical grounding.

Even though some of us were raised under the influence of Black Consciousness in the middle to late 1970s, we were brought up to understand that blacks, that is indigenous Africans, were the authentic natives of this country.

Of course, this was a lie, that is if you get to study and understand the true history of this part of the African continent.

This apartheid-influenced historical distortion was intended to give blacks a self-righteous claim to assert the ideological position that in the struggle for freedom and self-determination, they would always occupy the number one spot.

But the battles between government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi and Cabinet Minister Trevor Manuel can only confirm the worst fear of deep, underlying tensions between blacks and coloureds over who is an authentic African.

Let me at the outset make it very clear that in a non-racial society like the present South Africa, the use of words like “black” or “coloured” should be banned as they are an antithesis to the spirit of our Constitution.

In this particular article, they are only used as an attempt to take us somewhere in terms of understanding present-day black-coloured relations.

First, we must admit that black anti-coloured feelings and coloured anti-black sentiments, however large or small, exist and are real in this beautiful country.

They are a product of colonial and apartheid engineering that has inculcated a “better-than-thou” attitude among certain sections of the population who have always aspired to be “white”.

There has been no golden age in the history of the black-coloured relations where being “black” was cool because within the latter community, black was, largely, considered an aberration.

The status of being “somebody” has always been determined by how “white” one looked in terms of their physical appearance and those who looked too “black” were not only frowned upon but rejected and thus treated as less human.

I dare any coloured to reject or challenge the existence of this self-hating racism within its own community, which has divided it against itself over who is “light” and “too dark”.

Yet, there were always courageous individuals within the black and coloured communities, including at family level, which rejected this intra-racism and fought for better relations that transcended skin colour.

This political awareness with taints of Black Consciousness is what ushered a better age where an increasing number of people in both communities identified the common history of oppression and dehumanisation and began to rally around the cause of their oppression, that is, skin colour.

This marked a turning point in black and coloured relations where small pockets in both groups popularised genuine empathy and forged principled unity that espoused opposition to the “divide-and-rule” tactics of the colonialists and apartheid apparatchiks.

After the launch of the United Democratic Front in 1983, black-coloured relations have reached their lowest point in a non-racial democracy.

We have to ask ourselves, why it is so, now?

I do not want to put the entire blame on the legacy of colonialism and apartheid. But this sad state of affairs can be explained by each group’s perception of the other and of itself.

The fact of the matter is that blacks and coloureds in this country continue to view each other through apartheid-created prisms.
For example, blacks recognise and may remember some fundamental flaws of coloured history: not only have they believed that they were “better than blacks” but have, largely, been inclined to side with the whites.

This is an over-simplification of history but this perception is at the centre of deep tensions that exist.

For example, much as the UDF was formed to oppose the Tricameral Parliament. Blacks have always resented the fact that coloureds seemed to buy into an unjust political system at their expense.

Needless to say, blacks have this deep-seated resentment against coloureds because they reinforce the view that they are the “chosen ones”, second-class citizens while blacks are condemned to remain at the bottom of the racial hierarchy and economic ladder.

The black resentment of coloureds rests on apartheid-created social engineering.

In fact, historically, coloureds have always been subjected to the same brutal and degrading oppression as blacks.

For progress, both black and coloured leaders, especially in the ANC, need to shatter the myth of coloured one-upmanship and black inferiority complex to embark on educational campaigns that will teach the groups of their common history and plight.

Of course, there is a disproportionate presence of coloureds in the Western Cape, for instance, simply because under apartheid blacks were declared as undesirable and unwanted in the region.

The Western Cape has been, since 1954, a “coloured-preferred area”.

Since those times, it was a sin to be black and being coloured was the passport to false privilege. This explains why blacks changed their names to be coloured in the region.

It is this perception that feeds into bigotry and stereotypes of coloured as “less black”.

Ironically, the founding of the Constitution of this country does NOT recognise the existence of blacks and or coloureds as distinct group entities. The Constitution was a result of both blacks and coloureds choosing to fight against white oppression.

Thus we must always remember that we are all South Africans who have a right to belong here.

  • http://aol fergie

    @Radebe, your constitution is not the best in the world because it doesn’t have checks and balances for government abuse of power. The people in SA do not have a voice in the government. For example, none of the officials in the government are accountable to the people in SA. Not one person in SA is elected by the people of SA and this is not government by the people.

  • Benzol

    Another one of those stupid articles about which skin colour comes from where, what does it do for your place in the packing order and …and….

    Coming from another part of the world, this kind of articles are so boooooooring.

    Still waiting to hear a plan to change this, a demand to stop classification by skin colour, a demand to classify all South Africans as coloured as most of them (80% ??) are anyway.

    Please guys, stop pissing around with this “I am black and thus entitled to…….., I am coloured and thus…….., I am white and done in since 1994.
    Please grow up and look forward. If you cannot, just shut up and sit in your corner sulking without making a noise.

  • Chris Potgieter

    @ fergie on March 16th, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    Fergie’s “Not one person in SA is elected by the people of SA and this is not government by the people.” hits the nail squarely on the head.

    To get the best person for the job it is important that they be elected personally. More importantly the person seeking election should live in the community they are going to represent.

  • Sithembiso Malusi Mahlaba

    @Una, the extent to which Afrikan women beautify themselves, is basically reflection of primititive, naive mindset cosmetically speaking though. It is a matter of digrace indeed, as to how people go to the extremes in the name of fake or farcical looks.

  • Oldfox


    Boring for you. Disappointing and saddening for many of us who were born here, and who thought we would have progressed far beyond these racial divisions many years ago. I too would rather be entirely focused on the future, and not writing about the past (which is impossible to change!).

    In some respects, some of us spend more time discussing race today, then we did during the ’80s during the state of emergency. Of course, we did discuss politics then, but not all the ‘baddies’ then were White – there were informers and police and soldiers on the side of the Nat govt. who were Black. Many of those in SA who were opposed to the Nat govt were White, incl. thousands of young men who refused to do military service.

  • shane chalklen

    I am from the western cape and of mixed origin. in the struggle against apartheid i rallied behind black consciousness, because the ANC over emphasised the struggle against race as opposed to economic oppression. My great grandmother was Zulu, grandfather British, mother Cape Malay and great grandfather Jewish. I am South African of mixed race and for me to be tolerent of the race dynamics in this country is driving me nuts. The point is we are all racist, unless we dead inside. Let us all say “I am Racist” like drug addicts and do some change management around it. For those racist out there accusing other groups of racism, look at your own intra racism (Cyril Ramaphosa coming from a minority clan, despite being the best candidate could’nt become president). Phambile Azania!

  • Sithembiso Malusi Mahlaba

    @shane chalklen, please do not lie, who stopped Cyril Ramaphosa from becoming Pressident? Mandela, wished to see Ramaphosa being President after him, but in ANC it is people who decide who is next President and Politics brothereman is not for faint-hearted.Then, Ramaphosa, chose to be asset-stalker, than to pursue polotical career.

  • Themba

    @amused reader.
    I am African and my ancestors are native to the Cape, but Europeans are not native to the Cape. My ancestors include African, Khoi, European people. Does this mean I am foreign to the Cape and whites are not?

  • padre

    Sandile refers to those coloureds who took part in the Tri -cameral Parlimentary elections, many of them are now members of the ANC. Why does Sandile never refer those Blacks in the Bantustans & townships who were part of the apartheid system and many now find themselves in the ANC. As for being an African, he does not have copyright to it. I am an African not a Coloured or an indian.The more I read his articles, the more he convinces me that he still suffers from some kind of inferiority complex as a result of the damage that ws inflicted upon him by the Apartheid system. Get over it my brother, we are all African and no matter how books or articles you may write, it cannot remove my Africanhood.

  • Reggie Engle

    I was born on Cape Flats W/Cape of mixed parentage 1944. Left SA 1985 for Australia. Wrote this poem in 70’s and this is first time I’m publishing it!


    Clinging on to vainless hope
    That’s preached by those the fairer race
    Are people who have zero scope
    In life; because they’re dark in face.

    The morrow bears no magic soap
    To change the shade of coloured skin
    Like leather or an oily rope
    Of people weary who cannot win.

    Pushed from homes and sheltering huts
    They sleep in streets and open fields
    They cling to hope like crazy nuts
    Like broken spokes on turning wheels.

    Wake up people Black and Brown
    Raise your voices and set your sights
    On freedom now without a frown
    And claim your precious Human Rights!

    True the white man created division with his Divide and Rule policy but I always considered myself and family as South African – the country of my birth.I will never forget my heritage!!

    Spoke to an Egyptian nurse at our local hospital where she manages the Outpatients Department. We exchanged pleasantries and I told her…”We are both African you know – the only difference is you are from the Top-end and I’m from the Bottem-end of the African Continent!! She agreed and hugged me!!

    You see – to me the issue is ….”Our Precious Human Rights”!! Another poem I wrote at the same time as “Black Hope” I called it “LIFE’ and it ends like this:

    I’m Human I’m free
    And happy to be a part of Life
    See that child with his…

  • brown sugar

    Silly, short-sighted article.