Cape Town’s Secret White Club
January 21, 2015 § 2 Comments
*this column originally appeared on Cape Times when I still wrote for the publication. The reaction to it online and the comments which followed were disturbing and amusing all at once.
A few months ago I wrote about Cape Town’s professional unfriendliness towards black people. I stated that most black people don’t want to work in Cape Town because they come up against the white ceiling that they cannot go through, which is why any self-respecting aspiring black professional will leave Cape Town for blacker pastures in Joburg.
For there lies opportunity for them. I left the Cape because of the visible ceiling.
I had an interesting conversation with a German friend of mine who has been in Cape Town for the past six months or so.
Before that, she spent four months in Joburg.
First, she gave me the biggest shock of my life when she said she preferred Joburg to Cape Town.
Almost choking on my drink, I turned to her and said: “What? Did you say you prefer Johannesburg to Cape Town but in actual fact you meant you prefer Cape Town to Johannesburg?”
It made no sense that she didn’t like Cape Town. The city is beautiful, and she’s German, she’s supposed to like Cape Town, like the many German tourists who fall in love with the city and never leave.
Even after she assured me that she meant that she would choose Joburg over Cape Town any day, I waited for her to tell me that she was joking.
She gave me a compelling argument. She said she found Cape Town racist.
She said white Capetonians looked at one another as if they were members of a secret club. The White People’s Club.
Strangers made racially biased remarks to her, assuming that she will agree with her simply because she is white. It is something she said she had never experienced anywhere before.
One of the examples she gave me was an experience she had last week while she was shopping at a supermarket.
There was a trainee at the till. The trainee was obviously slow. The trainee explained that he was still new and figuring things out.
But the man in front in the queue turned and looked at my friend and then said: “These people are so slow and stupid and lazy. This can’t be that hard.”
My friend said she got that a lot in Cape Town.
That they are all part of the club where white people can just say things about black people and expect everyone to agree.
If this is the case, then what is it about Capetonians that they think they can get away with that kind of behaviour?
Obviously this is not everyone. All my friend was saying was that if she encountered this kind of behaviour so regularly, it could only mean that a lot of the time people say these things without being aware that they are being racist.
Am I saying Capetonians are racist?
Not at all, but I am saying that Cape Town needs to engage in proper soul-searching before denouncing what my German friend noticed. Outsiders tend to see things in a different light because they are not emotionally invested in the country. I appreciated her perspective on the Mother City because it created a mind shift.
In Joburg, she said, she never felt that she was looked at as if she belonged to this exclusive white club. She finds Joburg more accepting and more patient in letting others grow.
And, oh, one more thing: she said Cape Town was like a fishing village.