Writing About The Cape Flats When You’re Not From There

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The history of blackness in the South African context is most aptly described as tumultuous and divided. Apartheid fashioned a plethora of constructs among black ethnicities which caused a convoluted idea of identity and resultant identity politics. The notion that skin tone and hair types are currency and racial line drawers, the notion that the whiter the righter, the notion that proximity to whiteness is a yardstick by which to measure social status, writes JADE SEPTEMBER.

The result of all these proverbial lines in the sand, meant that blackness was essentially broken. Disintegrated. Segregated into what is today regarded as “Black”, “Indian”, “Coloured”, “Malay”, “Khoi/indigenous” and the like, all of which form part of the unified body of blackness. With the separatism, came tribalism, colourism, a decline in black consciousness, a less organised people. This was solidified by the Group Areas Act which saw black people separated and moved away from each other into abject poverty and Apartheid spatial planning which was designed to contain the “black threat”. Unfortunately, although Apartheid has long since ended, the constructs, which at the time where physical, manifested mentally and are still prevalent today. 

I recently attended a dinner soiree where up until one particular moment, I had foolishly assumed that all of us there present were black. That we identified as such, and saw each other as such. That was until a very close friend of mine pointed out that I am, in actual fact, not black, on account of my being obviously coloured. While I found his comment to be inflammatory, it did give me pause. This is how we were raised. This mentality is the result of years of separatism and, while I don’t hold it against him, it did stick in my craw. At the same time, I realised that, because of this separatism, his lived experience would have been radically different to mine, and that I had no right to authoritatively speak on his lived experiences. His experiences have never been my reality.

These same Apartheid constructs are the ones which endow lighter skinned individuals with privilege not afforded to their darker skinned counterparts, cause anti-blackness to consume entire communities, and cause different lived experiences to be rampant in different areas.

If there is one thing South Africans are known for, it is our story-telling ability. Given the different experiences lived in differed parts of Apartheid spatial planning, who then becomes the custodian of these different stories? One thing is for certain, these stories must be told. 

However, if you have not lived a reality, do you have the right to speak on it in an authoritative voice? Absolutely not. It is disrespectful, it is biased by default and you will go on to actively perpetuate stereotypes which, chances are, are enough of a battle to contend with as is. 

I read a think piece by Haji Mohammed Dawjee published by Tortoise Media and it made me cringe. First of all, with all the healing needed to be done by black bodies, are we still making distinctions between brown and black people? Being brown is not different to being black and making such a distinction draws an immediate comparison and is, quite frankly, violent. 

The Cape Flats is a living nightmare with a body count on the rise day by day. The last thing needed right now, is for someone to swoop in with a misguided saviour complex and gaslight black bodies into telling their stories, only for those stories to be retold in a manner that makes it extremely apparent that A) The writer is very far removed from the subject matter both mentally and physically, and B) She had no right to tell that story. 

The reality is that, in South Africa, as much as black bodies are trying to move back to unity, black consciousness and overall equality, boundaries still exist. Boundaries which talk to the identities caused by separatism and the different stories held by these identities. 

The Cape Flats reality is a painful one. It is the reality of living in constant fear. It is the reality of violence caused by a much larger set of systemic principles designed to have black people kill each other. To be the root of our own turmoil. Hijacking those experiences and telling it through a different lens essentially strips away the agency of the ones who live it. It diminishes their lived experiences to the point where they become caricatures in someone else’s story. Plot points, sage one-liners, juicy material and nothing more. 

The most disturbing part is that colonisers did the same thing for centuries. History is and always will be written by the victors. The stories of the most ancient peoples were written by colonisers who interpreted their lived experiences for themselves and chose to weigh in something they could not possibly know the truth about. The evil at the root of all this is narcissism. 

To Haji…

Talking about how you have to leave the sunshine and privilege of Seapoint to slum it in the Cape Flats is not something you were asked to do. Stay in “the shadow of Table Mountain” then and, by all means, tell your own story. Don’t gaslight people into sharing their lives with you in the hopes of raising awareness only for you to bastardise it and paint yourself as a saviour. As should have been expected, your story was taken as inflammatory and its garnered backlash that you, unfathomably, did not expect. You reacted by being a textbook narcissist and allowing a young woman who lives this painful reality every single day to be bullied by a man who felt that he needed to come to your needless defence. You allowed Charne to be bullied on your watch. You watched as this man relentlessly tried to take her agency from her and you encouraged it with retweet upon retweet.

The bottom line is that you penning your piece came from a place of selfishness. You get paid to pen these pieces, do you not? It came from a place of narcissism and intentional gaslighting. You paraded a people’s pain and made a puppet of the woman you interviewed. Instead of saving yourself the effort of nit-picking on Twitter and issuing weak apologies for the ONLY passage YOU deemed to be triggering, why did you not just use your not-inconsiderable resources to empower people from the Cape Flats to tell their own story? The fact that you didn’t rather denotes a lack of comprehension, and to be honest, caring in general. 

Black bodies are not tools for you to generate likes, attention and revenue. We can tell our own stories. There are many voices who have the right to speak authoritatively, and to, as rightful custodians, share our stories. Don’t diminish our lived experiences because you have absolutely no right. Don’t separate blackness because, again, you have absolutely no right and furthermore, all you are doing is compounding a much bigger problem. 

Sometimes, Haji, the right thing to do is just hou jou bek.

Jade September is an independent writer born in Mitchells Plain. After completing her schooling in Lansdowne and Goodwood respectively, she went on to study at the University of The Western Cape before pursuing a career in writing.  

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies of The Daily Vox.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

8 COMMENTS

  1. The article speaks the truth to a certain point. Yes the apartheid government designed the way we were segregated but the new government is enforcing and enslaving our people as well. All that changed is who is running the country. Its not the colonialist anymore its one of the indigenous people. And they are encouraging and helping communities killing themselves. Instead of tackling the bull by the horns. The current government for the past 20 odd years have grown the divide between the haves and the have nots. They have actually fuelled the racial divide by providing the guns that are used in criminal acts in communities. They are providing the drugs that keep our people addicted. And with the extreme escalation of violence did nothing to help the suffering communities. This is the only government in the whole world to whom the safety and security of its people is not a priority. Today we need to start fighting a different fight with this new inept incompetent government. Whose only interest is to rape the country financially. They call themselves the ANC AFRICAN NATIONAL CRIMINALS PARTY

  2. travel is the movement of people between distant geographical location. Travel can be done by various mode .i.e. foot, bicycle, automobile, train, boat, ship, airplane, bus. By travelling people get various knowledge of geography, culture, custom of people. Travelling is a kind of activity which almost all the people love. For some people it is an opportunity to relax and abstract for everyday busy life. Some people consider it to be the best way to have fun.

  3. So journalists should not write about any place that they have not lived, not even in a piece of carefully researched reportage? Really now? An article like this Daily Vox piece demonstrates and embodies the dead end of a crude indentitarian politics that holds sway in certain woke spaces. Who is going to decree, finally and definitively, which ‘category of person’ can and should write about what? Who is going to decree, to everyone’s satisfaction, who has the requisite ‘lived experience’ and who not? How will they decide? That way lies aparheid-era bureauracy and idiocracy, and, eventually, totalitarian cultural policing. A basic tenet of any artistic and intellectual work for anybody who cares about real freedom: anyone can write about anything. The question is how well it is done. Please think harder, Daily Vox, and ask yourselves what is more important: the personalised, ad hominem storm-in-a-tea cup cultural appropriation and ‘triggering’ debate that your article addresses, or the questions of real violence, chronic inequality, bare life and fear that Haji’s article takes up.

  4. I have my own story, born to a white Swiz German man and a coloured Kenyan women , in Edenpark JHB , was not raised by either one of my parents, I was send to live at a all black zion church, see the problem of my story is I don’t look like my mother and her family, I look white like my fathers, for years I had to fight, in the struggle Of apartheid , but part time I visited my mother in endenpak , I was from Emalahleni where I grow up , but I got a coloured prospect from my visiting there , my mother’s had other kids and they stayed with her , I always thought it’s not right for me to be in the black side in 1981 but we make do , I was Baptised In Tempisa a black townships in JHB my sisters was baptized in Methodist Eden Park , methodist Eden Park we have to different views on life and because I see it from my side , it doesn’t mean, they see it my way , but because we can share our story’s makes the make it fit like a puzzle. What I am trying to say , as I am staying in Cape Town at this moment is , I see the same similarities that was in Edenpark and I don’t say it’s better or worse, I simply say , your experience about the place may not necessary Come from living there but from being a distance part of the place , being black has never excluded me , even thought they called me umlungo, I am differently black that’s what I was told .. Don’t make more lines in the world where people can not express themselves. You can’t stop people experience about each other and the places they come from , we are South African first , let’s see each other by our stories and understand our backgrounds , but visiting this places .
    My name is Ronnelle this is a pice of my story , nice to meet you to …

    • I love your story Ronnelle. It is a true story I can feel it… All we need as south africans is to unite and try to make our country to be the best country to live on.. Yes the apartheid system divided our people and made us to kill each other,they didn’t do it directly though but their system made us to lack confidence. The systems such as Group Areas act, Good hope plan played a major role in putting down the dignity of a person with a black trait. But we can not keep on dwelling on the past we need to bring about change in our country.

  5. Different ethnicities existed before Apartheid was implemented. The Khoi and the Xhosa were here, and they were not friends. There were extremely pitched wars between them. So too between the Zulu and Xhosa. I don’t think all of them saw themselves as black or part of some magical ‘blackness’ but rather as Khoi, Xhosa and Zulu. Reducing it all to some ‘blackness’ seems to be historically naive and oversimplified.

  6. “Black bodies are not tools for you to generate likes, attention and revenue.” How ironic. I could have sworn it’s EXACTLY what you are doing.

    Sometimes, Jade, the right thing to do is take your own medicine and just hou jou bek.

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