For Mixed-Race South Africans --- Equity Is Elusive
- For Mixed-Race
South Africans --
Equity Is Elusive
-- by Lydia Polgreen
CAPE TOWN , South Africa
When the man from the African National
Congress came looking for votes in 1994,
Mohammed Khan says he listened carefully.
The man promised jobs, better schools and new
houses for the hundreds of thousands of people
crammed into the Cape Flats , the sprawling
townships built by the apartheid government.
Most important, Mr. Khan recalls, the man
said that in the new South Africa, people
of Mixed Race, known ... as `Coloreds',
would [become] full and equal citizens.
To someone like Mr. Khan, who had lived
only as a second-class citizen, derided
as the progeny of forbidden racial mixing,
uprooted from his neighborhood in Cape Town as a
little boy and sent to live in a distant ghetto to make
room for White people, it was a powerful message.
"We were all going to be South Africans now, not
'Colored', not 'Black', not 'White', just South Africans,"
said Mr. Khan, 43, an unemployed laborer who
lives in Netreg, a few miles from Table Mountain.
Mr. Khan was convinced; he
cast his ballot for Nelson Mandela.
"We were all going to have a
better life together," he said.
Nearly 10 years after Mr. Mandela became
South Africa 's first 'Black' president,
Mr. Khan still does not have a job.
He collects scrap metal on a
horse-drawn cart to feed his family.
His parents still live next door in a two-room
cinder-block house, with 18 other relatives living in
shacks in the backyard with the horses and chickens.
Worst of all, he feels that people of Mixed-Race are
still caught in the middle of South Africa 's rainbow.
" It is still `Colored' people who are stuck
in the middle, and no one cares about us "
People of Mixed-Race are not the only ones
disappointed; people in all racial groups have
felt the shocks and pangs of South Africa's
slow and painful progress from authoritarian,
racist-rule to multicultural-democracy.
Unemployment, crime and the scourge of AIDS
-- afflicts all South Africans to varying degrees.
But among the Mixed-Race residents of the
Cape Flats -- where poverty and unemployment
help push young men into violent street gangs,
and where life seems to have gotten harder since
apartheid's end -- many people say they feel there
is no place for them in the new South Africa ...
A child playing a bugle outside a
dwelling in the township of Netreg .
In a country whose history is usually simplified
into a struggle between a 'White' minority and a
'Black' majority, the four million people known as
`Coloreds' are often little more than a footnote
Yet people of Mixed-Race have always been
central to the nation's history, and today they form an
important and hotly contested voting bloc, especially
for the largely White opposition party, the Democratic
Alliance, which seeks their support as a bulwark
against the powerful African National Congress.
During apartheid, people of Mixed-Race were
granted a slightly higher status than 'Blacks':
they had marginally better schools and
housing, and did not have to carry passes
to enter 'White' areas, as 'Black' people did.
[In] the Western Cape , Mixed-Race people
could get skilled blue-collar jobs that paid better
than the menial ones open to 'Black' people.
They were uprooted from their homes and banished
from White areas -- but were not sent to distant
homelands, like the so-called bantustans
created for 'Black' people under apartheid.
Most people of Mixed -Race spoke Afrikaans,
which linked them culturally to the ruling elite.
But that "thread of privilege" came at a price.
The Population Registration Act, which
codified racial categories under apartheid,
put non-Whites in a crude hierarchy, using
"a variety of humiliating methods to determine race".
Perhaps the most absurd was `the pencil test', in
which a 'White' bureaucrat would put a pencil into the
hair of a person whose racial origin was uncertain.
If the pencil fell out, the person was `White'.
If it stayed put, the person was `Colored'.
Many South Africans of mixed race live in townships
built by the apartheid government outside Cape Town.
These indignities created a
deep antipathy to apartheid;
indeed, the Mixed-Race community
of the Western Cape was central to
a powerful and important anti-apartheid
movement, the United Democratic Front.
But the apartheid government also went to
great lengths to patronize and demoralize
people of Mixed-Race -- building a system
of dependence through social welfare and
sowing fear and contempt of 'Black' people.
In the dream of a nonracial South Africa ,
Mixed-Race people were to become
simply South Africans, no longer burdened
with "the inhuman probing of their identity".
But their status today illustrates just how difficult
the task of creating `a non-racial identity' has been.
"We all thought that after 1994, the whole
notion of `Colored' would just disappear,"
said Trevor Oosterwyk, a political writer and
historian who grew up in the Cape Flats and
was active in the anti-apartheid struggle.
"But it did not disappear; if anything it reasserted
itself in the form of `Colored' Nationalism.
And now `Colored' people are struggling to
figure out precisely where they fit in."
Of course, there are people of Mixed-Race
who have fit into the new South Africa just fine.
They hold high positions in government and business,
and new educational and career opportunities are
helping many break into the middle class.
But Robert Mattes, a professor of political science
at the University of Cape Town who led a survey
published last year on political attitudes, said that
of all racial groups, `Colored' people were the
most pessimistic about the country's future as
a peaceful and prosperous multiracial nation.
In some ways, people of Mixed-Race had
the most to lose with the end of apartheid.
The 'White' ruling elite kept its wealth
even as it relinquished political control.
Mixed-race people, [were] never allowed the
tools to accumulate [the] wealth that now
must be spread among 44 million people