Analysis

Coloureds are Africans: We are the indigenous people of SA

This coloured thing. This badge of shame, disgrace and ignominy that some want to hang around people like me as they excoriate people in this group for not being fully African, or having feasted on the so-called benefits that apartheid had bestowed on them.

And as these insults rain down on coloureds, it is conveniently forgotten that many of the forefathers of people who have brown skins were the first freedom fighters in this country. In landmark battles, they bravely defended themselves and their land against European invaders in Mossel Bay, as well as Table Bay.

No matter what the twisters and sanitisers of history peddle: they are also South Africa’s indigenous people. For the record, my lineage goes deep into the Overberg and includes a Khoi kaptein who was deposed by missionaries because he refused to become their vassal. So while I regard myself as indigenous and therefore African I will for the purposes of this opinion piece use the term “coloured”.

Long before they were conquered in the Eastern Cape, the Khoi also called that part of South Africa home, even if today they are a minority there. Today the descendants of the indigenous people everywhere experience deliberate discrimination according to anecdotal evidence, as well as a recent Human Rights Commission report, which has made certain recommendations to the president.

I did not want to write about this coloured thing. However, sometimes one has to speak up and not hide behind political correctness. The hopelessness and self-hatred, typical of indigenous people that have been invaded and conquered and that comes with being told one is a stepchild in the land of one’s ancestors, has reached a tipping point. Ever-diminishing opportunities, Western Cape prisons overcrowded with what can be called the coloured lost generation of males seduced by ruthless gangsterism cannot be ignored anymore. Neither can the nihilism that has taken root.

Then there is the widespread accusation that the Western Cape is not really African. Indeed: this kind of comment is code for actually saying that coloureds are not African; the Western Cape is too coloured and therefore the Western Cape is not African enoughLet’s call out claims like this out for what they are: racism. And this must stop.

Coloureds should challenge and reject this deeply flawed narrative, which pushes them to the margins and also slyly wants to impose national demographics on to the Western Cape.

This racism seeps through everywhere: only a few days ago a Sunday newspaper reported about General Jeremy Vearey, who just happens to be coloured, according to old South Africa racial classification categories that conveniently travelled into our new democracy.

The newspaper report, mentioning an unnamed ANC Western Cape source, talked about a coloured cabal backing Vearey. Vearey is a freedom fighter who did not sit in an armchair, nursing an upper-end whisky from the Johnny Walker range, but took up arms and ended up on Robben Island. He was one of the last political prisoners to be freed before, as an MK soldier, he became one of ANC president Nelson Mandela’s most trusted bodyguards – a person of the utmost integrity.

The Sunday newspaper hatchet job is part of an orchestrated campaign against his bid to become Western Cape Police Commissioner. Many support his candidature because he has a sterling track record of fighting crime. Bringing in allegations of a coloured cabal backing him is simply playing that race card that derides coloureds.

It would seem that now that our joint struggle to end apartheid is over, some of those who once were comrades can be relegated because they are coloured, had had so-called better opportunities and are now only needed at election times. Now that the 2019 elections are becoming a distant memory, it seems like it is time to bring out old resentments about the so-called favouritism that coloureds enjoyed under apartheid.

The National Party government cynically tried to turn different shades of the black community against each other by literally placing them on a ladder of meagre benefits. Those at the bottom were bitter about those at the top.

That resentment can be conveniently used to rally support when the political leadership of parties is decided. It is something that the Western Cape interim political leadership of the ANC has to combat as it sets about rebuilding the party. Promoting true non-racialism and not ethnicity based on discredited racist categories from the old South Africa should drive this process.

Off course, it’s not only the ANC that has reached out to the majority in the Western Cape for its electoral support. The DA has done it as well. And once they galloped into power on the back of a surge of brown support, the DA relegated this group to the sidelines. Helen Zille was replaced as premier by another white face, and a white male at that, this in a province where whites are in the minority.

A party such as the ANC has found it difficult and almost unbearable to come out and say that employment opportunities in the Western Cape must be based on provincial and not national demographics.

This stance has not alienated what the ANC would call its traditional African base but this has cost the ANC coloured support, dented its credibility and has made it far less attractive than the DA. Many of those coloureds that have voted DA had seen that party as one that would protect their interests against Africans.

As another municipal election is approaching, coloured leaders in the ANC will be forced to say publicly where they stand. Keeping quiet about the clear marginalisation of coloureds will again have radical consequences at the polls if the 2019 general election is anything to go by.

As for the country and its ANC government, non-racialism will be given a crucial impetus once coloureds are recognised as being just as African and intrinsically belonging to this continent as Zulus, Xhosas or any of the land’s other black tribes. Those who have had the door that leads to opportunities slammed in their face because they are allegedly not African will turn their back on non-racialism and cynically say that the much-talked-about new dawn is not meant for them. They will continue to say, as they’re doing now, that they were not white enough during the apartheid years and now they’re not African.

We should also be recognised for who we are: the indigenous people of South Africa. That is the national question: how to admit that South Africa had indeed experienced different forms of early conquest, one that saw the indigenous people being dispossessed by other Africans and also Europeans, with both groups laying claim to a country which wasn’t initially theirs.

Failing to deal with these cardinal issues will only feed the self-destruction, rage, impotence and disenchantment with the new South Africa present in many coloured communities.

Yet self-destructive rage is short-sighted. All over the world, indigenous people are standing up, claiming their inheritance. We should do the same while vigorously also promoting non-racialism and equality. Our country demands it of us. 

  • Dennis Cruywagen was ANC Western Cape spokesperson during the 2019 general election.

OPINION: Dennis Cruywagen