The ANC, the Cape and the ‘coloured’ question

The Western Cape has been under the control of the now-defunct National Party, the ANC and presently the Democratic Alliance (DA) since the advent of democracy.

Even now, it is the anomaly in the South African political landscape as the only province not under the control of the ruling ANC.

And at the centre of it all lies the coloured community of mixed-race heritage, which is spread across much of the lower and working class, sub-economic areas of the Cape Flats.

A minority grouping in terms of national demographics, in the Western Cape the coloured community is still the majority population group and thus holds the key to the political palace in the province.

The issue of the coloured constituency and its political allegiance was a hot topic of debate and policy discussion at the recently concluded eighth provincial conference of the ANC in the Western Cape.

So what exactly is the coloured vote? Is it real? Does it matter? And how does one engage with it? African News Agency (ANA) spoke to newly elected provincial secretary Faiez Jacobs at the provincial ANC headquarters in Cape Town about what the “coloured question” entails.

The provincial ANC had dedicated substantial attention in its document titled Path to People’s Power to making inroads into coloured communities and consolidating constituencies.

But this was about more than simply winning votes, according to the ANC provincial executive committee (PEC). It was a means to heal communities and deal with issues of identity.

Lack of security
From the outset, Jacobs emphasised the party’s stance, saying the ultimate objective was a non-racial, non-sexist society.

But the integral role of coloured communities and related issues of identity in the province’s politics was unavoidable.

“Slavery and colonialism has had a fundamental impact on the psyche of the people of Cape Town,” said Jacobs, who in an earlier press briefing on Tuesday identified himself as Muslim and coloured.

“My ancestors, although proud people from Java and Indonesia, were slaves.”

Jacobs said the consequence of slavery and almost six centuries of colonialism was illustrated in a lack of security in the coloured identity.

“It is evident in people constantly questioning themselves. They are never at peace with themselves,” he said.

Jacobs said that although the past 20 years of democracy had brought about new freedoms, there remained an “enslavement of the mind”.

“Coloured people are still enslaved with feelings of inferiority. This thing of not being white enough or black enough, of not being South African enough, it is a common theme,” he said. “Whether real or perceived, there is a feeling of marginalisation.”

Jacobs said he did not agree with accusations that the ANC and the ruling party in the province, the DA, were using crime and gangsterism on the Cape Flats as a political tool at the cost of lives

“Crime and gangsterism needs to be confronted, it needs to be addressed fundamentally,” he said.

“Coloured people must take their rightful place as South Africans. They must assert themselves.”

Jacobs said it was time members of the coloured community dropped the victim mentality that many of them still carry around.

“Everyone must assert themselves, stake their claim and enjoy the fruits of freedom,” he said.

But Jacobs said he understood that not every South African was in a position to claim these freedoms, nor were all familiar with what these fruits actually were. As such, the ANC would and should continue with political education, diversity training and informing communities of their rights and opportunities under a democratic South Africa.

Jacobs added that the ANC in the Western Cape had been its own worst enemy, allowing internal fighting to get in the way of delivering services to the province.

He said the coloured community in the province had “punished and rewarded political parties”, demonstrating political shrewdness.

With the issues of identity in mind and the failing of previous administrations to do so, how should a supposedly renewed ANC go about “healing” coloured communities and consolidating constituencies?

“Part of the strategy is to create spaces and platforms, spaces where people see each other, acknowledge one another,” said Jacobs.

Not only would these platforms provide a means for coloured communities to thrash out issues of identity, they would also serve as a space for communities of varying race groups to meet and share experiences.

“We want to create platforms for the comrade from Hanover Park to connect with the comrade from Langa, where they are able to say: ‘We have our differences but we also share the same experiences, the same struggles’,” he said.

And there was ample place for white South Africans, according to Jacobs.

“All identities are accommodated within the ANC. We want to embrace all South Africans and we want people to understand that it is okay to be different.”

The ANC in the province wants to encourage cross-cultural experiences. “We must find ways to initiate crossing the road, the divide, the railway line … ways where you can go to a 21st on the Cape Flats and a wedding in a township.

“When we leave work every day, we go back into our laagers. We need to get out of our comfort zones.

“We want to talk non-racialism,” he said. “People are not born prejudiced, they are socialised that way.”

And the non-racial society of which politicians and civil society often speak? Had the ANC in the Cape attempted it before and, if so, what had gone wrong?

“Yes, this has been attempted before,” said Jacobs. “It was tried during Ebrahim Rasool’s tenure, where there was a strong call for ‘a home for all’.”

But fighting and factionalism within the ANC had sidelined efforts to bridge communities and deal with enduring issues of identity. But under the recently elected PEC, they were back on track. 

“We need to try and find that place again,” said Jacobs. “I know it will be difficult, but what is the alternative?” – ANA

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