Dear Ms Polgreen…
I read you article (In a Divided city, Many Blacks See Echoes of White Superiority) in the New York Times of March 22nd with great interest. Your clear lack of objectivity and superficial understanding of South African society irked me, but I decided to let your subjective report pass, as I have become accustomed to subjective reporting on South Africa from the likes of the New York Times. But on a second read of your article, I decided that the glaring myopia in your report cannot go unchallenged. By not verifying your facts and fabricating a story from hearsay, half-truths and a dollop of assumptions (was their pressure from the editor to write a story, although there wasn’t really one?), you have left yourself wide open for criticism. I quote directly from your article:
This is the only major metropolis in South Africa where black people are not the majority, and it remains deeply divided. The particularly harsh legacy of apartheid as it was carried out here has left especially deep scars that still demarcate the geography: whites in the city center and its mountainside inner suburbs, nonwhites in the distant townships on the Cape Flats. Apartheid policies effectively barred blacks from living or even working in the city, giving so-called colored, or mixed-race, people, today the city’s largest ethnic group, priority over blacks for jobs and housing.
Apart from the above quote from your article, you further state that for many black South Africans Cape Town represents “the last bastion of white rule” (can’t quite figure out if your critical opinion is aimed against whites, “so-called mixed-race people” or both). But let’s start with your emotional description of the demographic situation in Cape Town. In the first place, Ms Polgreen, you should be aware of the fact that demography in South Africa determines election results (as is the case in many of Africa’s ethnically divided societies). It is thus no surprise that the ANC (the African-dominated political party) doesn’t rule in Cape Town. It is the outcome of majority rule politics in South Africa – nothing strange or sinister about it. But apart from that, can you perhaps describe to me how the apartheid situation in Cape Town differed from those in many other South African cities? What you describe of Cape Town holds true for any other major city in SA. Thus, Cape Town is not at all so unique, as you would let your readers believe.
Forthwith, you quote President Zuma on saying that Cape Town still had an “extremely apartheid system” (implying that Africans didn’t have opportunities). In the first instance, quoting President Zuma doesn’t really add to the credibility of your report. But secondly, and more important, neither you nor Jacob Zuma is apparently aware of the real facts. May I quote from the news website, Politics Web:
On Thursday 23 February (2012) a group of employees from the Department of Correctional Services in the Western Cape will be going to the CCMA to challenge the department’s employment equity plan which has placed a prohibition on the appointment and promotion of coloured and white South Africans in the province. Almost 18 years after the establishment of our non-racial democracy, the lives of an increasing number of South Africans are once again being disrupted by racial discrimination. In terms of the new ideology of demographic representivity, the number of black, white, coloured and Indian employees in an organisation, the number of managers and the number of board members should ideally be in proportion to the percentage of the population represented by each of the race groups.
Well, it doesn’t sound if blacks are actually discriminated against, does it? To the contrary, in Cape Town, as in the rest of the country, it is the minority groups, like the Euro-Africans (whites) and Coloreds who are discriminated against. The government’s discriminatory policies of affirmative action and black economic empowerment are well-documented.
…a study completed by researchers at the University of Cape Town in December 2010 found that black residents saw few business opportunities for themselves in Cape Town, and that companies struggled to recruit and retain them. It concluded that in Western Cape, “African people are almost always less successful than white people in moving up career paths, creating an ‘ebony ceiling’ effect”.
Dear Ms Polgreen, do these Africans or you as reporter, ever stop to think why African people have few opportunities in Cape Town? You just assume it must be because of racist policies, don’t you? You never consider the possibility that the majority of Africans might not be properly qualified or skilled (as is the case in the rest of South Africa), do you? And furthermnore that those who are properly qualified are drawn towards better job opportunities in the economic powerhouse of Gauteng.
This is precisely the point where your insufficient knowledge of South African society becomes very clear. You see, in other provinces in South Africa, affirmative action policies can give opportunities to Africans, regardless of their competency or qualifications. But in Cape Town (I would want to believe) merit still plays a role. Furthermore Coloreds also benefit from affirmative action and they are in the majority and thus there are fewer opportunities for Africans. Since the dawn of the new democracy the ruling ANC has labeled Coloreds interchangeably as Africans (blacks) and Coloreds (non-Africans) as they deem it fit. When it suits them, Coloreds are not African enough, as is the case in Cape Town. Although many Colored people stood side by side with them in the struggle against apartheid, the ANC cannot accept the fact that in only one (out of nine provinces) Coloreds are in the majority and thus in a more dominant position. It is furthermore extremely unpalatable for the current regime that the majority of Coloreds in the Western Cape do not support the ANC.
The office is not the only place where blacks feel unwelcome. Many of the more exclusive Atlantic coast beaches, which used to prohibit blacks, still tend to attract almost entirely whites, reinforcing the divide. “I hate going to Camps Bay because everyone there is white”, said Yoliswa Dwane, referring to an upscale seaside suburb on the Atlantic coast that was once reserved for whites. “You don’t get the perception that this is an integrated country”.
Well, well, it seems that you are actually quoting an African racist to prove white racism. The quoted person’s comment is clearly racist. As it would be, should I state that I hate going to Soweto, because everyone there is black. Many places in South Africa are mostly black and some places may be mostly white (or Colored, or Indian…). Is there any inherent problem with that? Yes, for the racist person, like Yoliswa Dwane, there is. Should a country be so artificially engineered that all places, all walks of life and everything must be reflective of national demographics? Are there not states, counties or cities in the USA which are mostly black or mostly white? Isn’t that the natural outcome of each unique area’s history and demographic development (however skewed it might be)? If an African person doesn’t feel comfortable among Euro-Africans, it reflects very badly on that person’s own race perceptions and stereotypes.
Some report being told that there are no tables available at an empty restaurant, or no cars at a well-stocked rental car office. Others recount being warned by white neighbors not to slaughter animals for festive occasions, or being mistaken for a prostitute simply for having drinks in a bar full of white patrons.
Your sources on this statement are indeed very vague. When a journalist uses the words “some report”, you know that there is an unfortunate shortage of facts. White neighbours warning blacks not to slaughter animals in their backyard? And your point being? I don’t know what American law is regarding public health issues and the backyard slaughter of livestock, but in South Africa it is viewed as detrimental to public health and usually frowned upon (and not only by whites). Is the backyard slaughter of livestock allowed and seen as a custom in the suburbs of New York and other cities in the USA?
Osiame Molefe, a journalist, recently wrote about being turned away from a nightspot. “The third (and final) time I was turned away from Asoka, a bar and lounge in Kloof Street, a representative of the establishment wrote, ‘I can inform you that Asoka does not have a racist door policy! We will be the first to admit that our policy is based on class and superficiality — unfortunately that is what our regulars expect and want. And realistically this is the unfortunate reality of the society we live in!'”.
Ms Polgreen, I would be the first one to admit that incidents of racism unfortunately still occur in South Africa. Quite recently such incidents in health clubs in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng received widespread media coverage. This is certainly not a phenomenon unique to Cape Town. To tell the truth, in many other South African cities, such incidents may be more frequent than in Cape Town. Again you are using one, isolated alleged example, to insinuate that this is actually a broader trend in Cape Town.
After walloping in dated apartheid-era rhetoric, you end your piece of biased writing as follows:
But that moment was short-lived. In 1994, the colored vote in Western Cape largely went to the National Party, the architect of apartheid. And today, on the campus of the University of the Western Cape, a kind of voluntary segregation has re-emerged, with like sticking by like. “There is not a lot of mixing,” said Nokwanda Khanyile, 21, a business student from Durban. “The coloreds stick to themselves. The whites, too.” Like many young black people, Ms. Khanyile would not consider remaining in Cape Town to pursue a career in business. “Cape Town is racist,” she said. “Everybody knows that”.
So the Colored vote went to the National Party and is now going to the Democratic Alliance? Surprise, surprise: the African vote goes to the ANC! If you study and understand African politics there is no surprise here. Elections tend to divide along ethnic fault lines. So, you’re actually not making any sort of revelation. You use the example of the University of the Western Cape, where there is “like sticking by like”. So, is there an inherent problem is this? If you do see this phenomenon as a problem, I encourage you to take cognisance of the fact that this problem may be even more acute in several other South African universities outside of Cape Town. Ms Khanyile says that Cape Town is racist and “everybody knows that”, just because the different ethnic groups at the university stick together. She paints with a very broad brush indeed and use natural phenomenon of freedom of association as a tool to prove racism.
To conclude, Ms Polgreen: Had you written your report on South Africa as a whole, I would have been less offended, because South Africa still experience social problems. But by choosing Cape Town, you have tainted the possibility of objectivity. In reading your report, I cannot but suspect that you are (wittingly or unwittingly) promoting ANC propaganda about “racist” Cape Town, based on the fact that the Western Cape is the only province which they do not rule. And this is something that really bothers the ANC, as they are power hungry and don’t want to settle for anything less that total control of South Africa. The fact the Western Cape is by far the best governed province in South Africa, further adds insult to injury.
As Johannesburg Bureau Chief of the New York Times, I would expect more objective and informed reporting from you. I am also tempted to suggest that, being an African-American yourself, you may have allowed your own ethnicity to cloud your judgement. However this assumption is hard to fathom from a journalist of apparent high standing, like yourself. I hope I am wrong in this regard.
I suppose that you would probably be writing more articles in the future, but in this process, please try not to be usurped by the ANC’s narrative for South Africa. If you are not familiar with this narrative, may I enlighten you: true democracy and the absence of discrimination will only be achieved when Africans are demographically represented everywhere in all walks of live, irrespective of qualifications or competency. This type of racially profiled social engineering is on par with that of the previous apartheid governments and is sure to infect the drive towards normalised race relations in South Africa. Thus, South Africa is still far from the non-racial society which the likes of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu may have envisaged. If your current president, Barack Obama, would have been a South African, he wouldn’t have stood a chance of becoming the president due to his racial profile. Enough said…