Eating out in Cape Town: a starter of racism, anyone?

Following a string of much-publicised racist incidents in public spaces around Cape Town last year, criticism of the city as a hub for racism has intensified after a black family were seated at an upmarket restaurant only after their white friend called to enquire about the booking arrangements. A blog post titled “Using my white privilege” went viral this week, highlighting that some restaurants in Cape Town are still turning away black patrons. RA’EESA PATHER follows up.

The incident that sparked the blog post happened in late December. But it was only during the first weekend of January that affected party Tumi Mpofu began receiving calls of apology and an offer from the swanky Azure restaurant at the 12 Apostles Hotel and Spa to make it up to her.

Since the story of her experience became public and shared across social media, Mpofu says she has encountered callers and commentators who have accused her of pulling “the race card” and being an “angry black”.

“When we think of racism, we always think of the extreme, overt situations where someone is being called names or is beaten up, but what happened there is also racism. It’s these nuanced things where these structural messages of not being welcomed in the white space and not having a voice happen every day and do constitute racism,” Mpofu told The Daily Vox via telephone.

In late December, Tumi Mpofu’s father, Mlamli Papu, called the 12 Apostles Hotel and Spa to make a booking at Azure for six people. According to Mpofu, once the staff member heard Papu’s name, he was told there were no bookings available. But when his daughter’s friend, Martina Dahlmanns, who wrote the blog post about the experience, phoned the hotel, the staff readily made a reservation. When Mpofu and her family arrived at the restaurant, the receptionist told her that there were no bookings under the name she gave and although she protested, it was only when Dahlmanns spoke to the receptionist that the family was seated.

“My friend was seen as a black person without any white back-up as she went to the restaurant, so they thought they could just dismiss her and just let her go. But when my white voice came in, then suddenly it could not be dismissed as black anger or pulling the race card, because suddenly there was ‘white anger’,” Dahlmanns told The Daily Vox.

According to Dahlmanns, The 12 Apostles Hotel and Spa apologised to her and the Mpofus for the “misunderstanding”. The German, who now lives in Cape Town, said that the hotel’s display of racism was one she had become accustomed to around the city since she adopted her six-year-old black daughter.

“It doesn’t help if I as a white person just sit on the sideline and say, ‘yeah, racism’s bad’; it clearly doesn’t help if black people try to expose it, because nobody believes them, and it’s not in the white privilege interests to acknowledge racism,” Dahlmanns said.

The 12 Apostles Hotel and Spa’s general manager, Michael Nel, told Cape Talk radio that what had happened was “human error”, saying that Azure’s records show that the Mpofu family had never made a booking. But Mpofu believes that the hotel won’t admit to the real issue at play: racism.

“I don’t think people actually know what racism is and are especially blind to their own racism and this is why we see case after case where black people experience racism but there’s always some kind of explanation for it [other than] what it actually is,” Mpofu said.

Although staff members at the hotel offered her a private room in the restaurant as a form of apology, Mpofu said she felt that they had tried to “shove us in some little corner so we are not seen”. Mpofu said staff at the restaurant had also told her family to be quiet because other guests were eating in the restaurant.

Although she considered leaving, Mpofu eventually decided to stay and see the evening through. “In the end, I decided that actually we should stay, because if we don’t confront these sort of issues and if we don’t go into these white spaces then nothing is ever going to change,” she said.

In order for the future of South Africa’s public spaces to change, Mpofu believes that the illusion of a rainbow nation must be dispelled. “We need to talk about these things and move away from this rainbow-nation idea. We need to be real about where we actually are,” she said.

-Featured image: Camps Bay by Alcuin Lai via Flickr

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3 Comments

  1. Humphrey says

    most capetonian, think western cape is another country is South Africa, they forget that South Africa belongs for those who live in it….the capetonian treat other fellow south african’s as foreigners in their country of birth…since they have a wrong mentality that western cape belong to them.

  2. Shay says

    It speaks oodles about denial. Not in the minds of a few, but in the minds of the vast majority of whites in SA. These sublte ‘nuances’ of dismissal, inferior service and so many other directly-racist expressions happen daily to black and brown South Africans.
    I’m a white woman in my 50’s who witnesses this every single time I’m out with a black or brown friend in a white-dominated space. And tourists wonder why hospitality, restaurants and leisure venues are still, 20 years on, filled with mostly white faces!
    When I visit townships or brown-dominated areas, which is fairly regularly, I have hardly ever been met with anything other than a warm welcome. When I’m dismissed by shop owners or meet with resentment there for seemingly no reason , I understand this is a ‘revenge response’ of years of being hurt and offended by us whites. When and how are we goingt to break this mould, I wonder…that immobilises the entire population.

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