Colour, class and culture

I thought that it would be some time before a whitey would be placed in charge of culture in a government position. But Western Cape politics, being of the see-saw variety, recently delivered a new provincial minister for arts, sport and culture in the form of Whitey Jacobs.

Fortunately for Jacobs, he didn’t have to apply for the job as it would have been difficult to ascertain his racial classification simply from his name on the application form. He is proof that it is still possible to make it in the new South Africa as a whitey. Others with such names might have been tempted to transform themselves, after 1994, to something more African. Not that Umlungu Jacobs would necessarily have been any better, but it might have alerted those who make decisions about jobs to take a second look at the application. For Whitey Jacobs is, indeed, a black African.

Just in case anyone wasn’t sure, so is Blackman Ngoro, the native from Zimbabwe who recently caused trouble when he suggested that coloureds are all dronkies. Not surprisingly, he was — correctly — lambasted for this statement since, after all, quite a few coloureds are not drunkards; their preferred habit is tik. Ngoro also suggested that black Africans are culturally superior to coloureds, which has further blackened his name. But in my view, the only thing lacking was Ngoro’s failure to submit real evidence to support his claim. For example, he could have said that black Africans are culturally superior as they generally speak three or more languages as opposed to the one-and-a-half of coloureds.

The problem for Ngoro in saying these things is that he is, well, a black man and not a coloured man. It’s okay for Marc Lottering, the Joe Barber guys and Kurt Schoonraad to trade in coloured stereotypes, but, as with any ethnic group, if outsiders make jokes or generalise about that group, they run the risk of being taken to the Human Rights Court, unless the stereotypes are of Afrikaners, in which case, they appear to be fair game.

The outcry in response to Ngoro’s statements has been deafening, particularly from coloureds in the Western Cape, whom, we all know, are supreme non-racists. Just ask them, and they will tell you ”I’m not a racist, but …” On one website, one non-racist writer just about tells Ngoro to get his ”kwerekwere” ass back to Zimbabwe. On another website, (definitely not to be confused with, a writer (also, definitely not a racist, but …) claims to be ”genetically preloaded” with an expletive vocabulary that is then used to tell Ngoro just where to get off.

Before migrating to the lifestyle offerings of the civil service, Ngoro was a journalist whose post-graduate journalism thesis was entitled Framing the Other: Representations of Africa in the Japan Times Online between January and December 2000. Ironically, coloureds and ”other coloureds” feel framed by Ngoro, who, given his studies, should’ve known better. It all goes to show that one can get the best education and still learn very little.

Soon after the storm broke, Ngoro announced that he was taking leave to spend time with his Japanese wife and ”proudly coloured” son. Herein lies the actual reason for Ngoro’s outburst: his parental concerns that his coloured son not grow up to fall into the traditional bad habits of coloureds, such as removing their front teeth, playing klabberjas and ending every conversation with ”Jou ma se … [Your mother’s …]”. Ngoro is simply wanting to start a new line in coloureds, less cheap wine and more sushi. That would be coloured cultural evolution, Blackman style.

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