The recent protests which have rocked the Southern parts of Johannesburg, more specifically the Coloured townships of Eldorado Park and Ennerdale, should not be looked at in isolation. The organisation and mobilisation of this largely unemployed, marginalised, and erased people have been a recurring trend across Johannesburg, from Reiger Park to Westbury. They pertain primarily to two matters, a “housing” crisis and the issue of criminality.
“Housing” was central to at least three protests in three months. It is an issue which goes largely overlooked by Coloured people themselves. Perhaps more concerning than this is the disregard by those who perceive the struggles of this group of people as a matter of lesser urgency.
Perhaps it is due to the fact that Coloured people create informal settlements in their backyards rather than establish informal settlements like their Black counterparts; giving the impression of a slightly better environment, as capital seems to circulate between landlord and tenant. But nobody questions the amount that is actually transacted (if at all) between these two parties, let alone the social implications of four families sharing a Verwoerdian “plot” of land.
One would be wilfully ignorant to believe that such a small space for movement could possibly facilitate a healthy childhood development. Imagine a child growing up next to a tavern (a large part of township economy, particularly where the genetic footprint of the Dop System exists) surrounded by unemployment and desperation on both ends of the gender spectrum. This child is fatherless and without any alternative representation of self to aspire towards. What are the chances that this child will develop a moral reasoning stable enough to enable the necessary cognitive skills which would lead to a critical environmental awareness?
This same child then (maybe) goes to school where she/he has no Mandela, Sobukwe, or Kathrada to identify with; where stereotypes are constantly reinforced by Koos Bekker through KykNet funding literature pertaining to gangsterism for his own entertainment. It is within these same spaces that Heritage Day for most middle-class Coloured children attending quintile 3-5 schools (as part of the smallest minority) is just a reminder that she/he has no identity. To what extent does one expect this child to pursue learning if she/he has no positive representation of her/himself? I have yet to come across a statement or explanation from the Departments of Basic Education and Higher Education pertaining to the singularly retarded growth rate and advancement of Coloured academia in a country that fosters such a great culture of learning inclusive of all racial groups, except Coloured people.
It could be that these townships are protesting because Coloured children are exposed to gangsterism and structural violence through exclusion from the time they are old enough to walk through the streets. Biko remarked that township life is enough to kill us, and the statistics do not lie. Violence has no doubt shaped masculinity where the Nommer thrives, be it Mitchell’s Plein or Nyanga, but nowhere else has it filled a vacuum of culture as in the Coloured community. Men kill each other over drugs, women, and “turf”. Yards and flats are simply not big enough for free movement, so they occupy corners. They do not own an identity but might get murdered because somebody feels like he owns his girlfriend since she lives in the street that he controls.
Legislation never worked in our favour; we can neither turn to the private nor government sector. Even if we do, we “sell out” by surrendering beings, right down to our accents for the purpose of survival to people who would rather try our culture on to make a fashion statement (say hi to Die Antwoord) or a joke (hello hi Michael Costa). There is less shame and humiliation in crime in this regard. We have been desensitised to violence to the extent that we do our looting topless, in strap sandals, get shot in the neck, and call it “lekker”.
Along these lines of dispossession, the rage in Coloured people, which this country finds hilarious, has been gaining momentum for centuries. Why the delay? Primarily, the children of slavery do not know what they are owed. They are excluded from the syllabus, teachers’ pedagogy, and curriculum; so why would they go to school? Even if they do, when exactly are they going to learn about themselves in the same economic, social, and legalistic light that their Black peers have the opportunity to? Colouredness has been defined by its body being sold for capital since it was in shackles and chains. What is this group of people owed exactly?
The Master and Servant’s Ordinance (later Act) was first perfected on Coloured slaves, before the Great Trek, and, as such, the Native Land Act of 1913 does not offer sufficient explanation on the matter of land. Moreover, upon speculation of the first form of the Group Areas Act in the first quarter of the 1800s by Adam Tas, the migratory flows of “free blacks” (former slaves) who became land owners after slavery’s abolition, led to the eventual establishment, in one instance, of Adam Kok’s Griqua state which had its own economy and infrastructure. It is simply an epistemic inconsistency and academically lazy not to look further back than the day, as Plaatje stated, “the Black man woke up a pariah in his own land”.
It is through this long-winded alienation of a people from their history, identity, family, culture and, ultimately, their land that one completely simplifies the land debate in South Africa to fit a narrative as clear-cut as Black and White. What will happen to South Africa when Coloured people realise that our issue is not “housing”, our issue is imposed landlessness, crime and alcoholism? The oppressed imitates the oppressor; that is what the Coon Carnival and the con of the skollie is rooted in. Although we are laughing, it is not with you. Who is the joke really on if you shot a man in his neck and he called it “lekker”? Why are you laughing?