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.