An open discussion: being coloured in a white and black South Africa
More than two decades into our democracy, South Africa has come a long way in creating inclusive spaces for the diverse group of people who live here. Despite this, the story of our ‘rainbow nation’ is still told from two perspectives; white or black. We caught up with a South African organisation trying to change this.
Earlier this month, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) based in Cape Town, hosted a discussion on the topic of what it means to be coloured in South Africa today.
The IJR is a non-governmental organisation that was established in 2000 as a watchdog in the aftermath of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The panel consisted of the organisation’s executive director Stan Henkeman, South African Poet Khadya Tracey Heeger, Angelique Thomas, who works at the Desmond Tutu TB Centre as a Social Science researcher and John W. Fredericks, the script writer of the Oscar-nominated film Noem My Skollie (Call me Thief).
Coloured People in South Africa
The group of people (mostly from the Western Cape) who identify as ‘Coloured’ are the result of interracial mixing between: Bantu-speaking Africans and KhoiKhoi (Khoisan), European settlers and KhoiKhoi or their slaves, and between the different slave groups.
During apartheid, these mixed families were separated into racial groups and forced to live in segregated areas. Most of those classified as coloured were moved to land on the outskirts of the city centre, known as the Cape Flats.
Panel on being coloured in post-apartheid South Africa
Poet Khadya Tracey Heeger performing an extract from her poem ‘Citizen Minus’.
Khadya says coloured people in South Africa are often overlooked, until politicians need votes or the when the frequent stories of gang violence dominate news headlines.
This topic of discussion was recently highlighted on a global platform after the release of the film Noem My Skollie (Call Me Thief) in September. The film is based on the inspirational life story of the scriptwriter John Fredericks and how he traded his skills as a storyteller to avoid being forced into South Africa’s notorious prison gangs.
Here is the trailer:
The film has become a smash hit across the country as it gives an authentic depiction what it was like for many young coloured boys. But what the film doesn’t show is John’s drive and determination to achieve his dream of becoming a writer at the age of 71. Noem My Skollie is also South Africa’s official selection for the 89th edition of the Oscars.
Panellist Stan Henkeman says besides the high rate of unemployment and the scourge of gangsterism and substance abuse in coloured communities, underlying discrimination still exists.
“Either your skin isn’t light enough or the texture of your hair is judged. At school I was told that I wouldn’t amount to anything and end up like my father who was in jail at the time.
“For too long, coloured people have been pathologised, not just by outsiders, but by ourselves as well. It’s time that we tell our stories and not have to apologise for it,” Henkeman says.
One of the youngest panel members, Angelique Thomas, was raised by a single mother and has three other siblings. Her parents got separated when she was still young due to her father’s alcohol abuse.
Angelique lives in a community where most people have become so desensitised by gang violence due its regular occurrence. She even recalls waking up one morning with a shattered bedroom window and a stray bullet beside her bed.
She says despite this being deemed ‘normal’ where she lived; it sparked her passion to work in communities just like her own, discussing topics like identity and displacement.
She ended with this: “By Mr Fredericks telling his story to the world, he made me and so many other young coloured children start believing that just maybe our stories matter too.”