What does it mean to be black in Cape Town? Where do you fit in? Especially as part of the new emerging black middle class with new ideas and beliefs on what blackness means? How do you express yourself in this very Eurocentric world?
Cape Town. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The infrastructure of the city and way of life are full of promise. One would think it’s the perfect oasis to retreat to when you need a prolonged break from the hustle and bustle of Jozi. At least that’s what I thought.
I was excited when the opportunity to move to Cape Town presented itself. I could finally reinvent who I am and blaze my own path. I was going to bring my Joburg hustler mentality to the Cape and take the city over. How ambitious I was. Things started off well enough. I chilled with my coworkers and became part of the culture. But after some time I noticed we were not always on the same page. I understand we all have different backgrounds and insights, but I been worried about the general disconnect the city had from the rest of South Africa.
I quickly realised that Cape Town is not Johannesburg. Vocal and expressive blackness is very subdued here. #WeAreComingForEverything doesn’t resonate as loudly. Black people are a minority, particularly in the city centre. And examples of Black excellence are few and far between.
It leads me to question a lot of things about Cape Town but mostly myself. I became very introspective and self-aware. At first I couldn’t figure it out. I was pleasantly oblivious to my new surroundings and how they affected me. Overtime I realised it was all about relatability.
I’m a young black male and like to consider myself as part of the emerging black middle class of South Africa. We are a group of people with aspirations and ideals that go beyond what people perceive traditional blackness to be. We are ambitious and enthusiastic about our future. In a city like Cape Town it’s not an easy trait to have. Historically and geographical the city is divided and segregated by race and economic background.
It feels like success here is a private club that very few people get invited to. A lot of Cape Town’s money is old and foreign money. As a result opportunities and wealth have remained with a certain group of people. This often leaves the young black middle class on the outside looking in, and not just metaphorically. The majority of the black population lives outside of the CBD, where the money and action is concentrated. It’s not just black people whom are left on the outside looking in. It applies to all races that don’t have a silver spoon background.
The high cost of property makes Cape Town an appealing prospect for foreign investment but it hurts South Africans. Our own culture is subdued and bastardised by ideas of what the rest of the world wants us to be or view us as. The enthusiasm and excitement that is rife in Joburg is non-existent here. Black people in Cape Town have become docile and have no real voice. It’s a harsh example of the difference between Freedom and Democracy. Yes, we live in a democratic environment but how free are we really?
Travel around Cape Town and it’s surrounding areas and you’ll witness first hand how little things have changed. There are relics of the past everywhere and they are celebrated unapologetically. It all adds to the city’s European aesthetic. Don’t get me wrong it’s a beautiful city but it’s heroes and history is exclusive and doesn’t tell everyone’s story. When they do tell our story it is often a coon’s tale riddled with black face and diminishes our existence. I can’t recall the last time I saw a street named after a Black or Coloured man who wasn’t Nelson Mandela. There is even a street named after FW De Klerk.
Those of us who are refugees to the city, as Helen Zille so famously described us as years ago are often left shocked and frustrated by what has become of the “local” black community and the role they are forced to accept in this society. We are still 3rd in line, behind Whites and Coloureds. There is a great sense of apathy and passive acceptance of the status quo that makes it difficult to interact with the black community. I can’t really blame them. The way the city is set up opportunities is few and far between. As “outsiders” we are full of ideas and they often shoot them down saying things will never change here. It’s a sad reality. Must we really accept that a major city in South Africa will never be a land of opportunity for the majority of South Africans?
I’d like to think that is not the case. At some point something will have to give and our cries will no longer fall on deaf ears. Until then, I will continue to push on and swim upstream through the cold and chilling waters of the Cape in the hope that one day this city will be my oasis.
Photographer: George Gladwin Matsheke Writer: Suku Gulube, Copywriter/Blogger now based in Cape Town. Twitter: @Soul_Broth3r.